G-d’s Hand and the Purim Story by Aviva Meshwork (Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel)
A long time ago there was a King of the Persian Empire named Ahashverush. At a very lavish and decadent party, while rather drunk, he requested that his beautiful wife Queen Vashti parade around to all his friends. Normally Vashti wouldn’t mind such an opportunity, but in this instance she had broken out in an ugly all over body rash and refused to come! This embarrassed and enraged the King and he therefore ordered Vashti’s execution, resulting in his need for a new Queen.
Eventually the woman chosen to fill the role of Queen was none other than a lofty Jewess named Esther. As a principled and morally sound woman grounded in Jewish values, Esther did everything she could to avoid being chosen. Nevertheless, the King favored her above all and she was chosen to be the next Queen, all the while hiding her Jewish identity.
Esther had a very close and loving relative named Mordechai who remained supportive of her through her tragic situation. Mordechai stayed close to the palace in order to hear news from Esther and it was there that he overheard of a plan to assassinate the King. He quickly told Esther of the plan and Esther, in Mordechai’s name, told the King. Although the King had chronicled that Mordechai the Jew had saved his life in his Book of Chronicles, the good deed was quickly forgotten.
Enter Haman- King Ahashverush’s anti- Semitic and narcissistic prime minister who required the people to bow down to him. When Mordechai refused to bow, Haman became enraged and devised a calculated plan to destroy Mordechai together with the entire Jewish people. In order to convince the King to allow him to carry out his plans, Haman went to the King with his anti-Semitic propaganda and lies thereby making the Jews appear worthless in the eyes of the King. Influenced by Haman, the King permitted him to kill all the Jews on one day, the 13th day in the Jewish month of Adar, as per Haman’s plan.
Once aware of this horrific plot Esther and Mordechai set in motion a very risky plan to save every Jewish man, woman and child in the vast empire. Esther had to put her own self in mortal danger in order to save the lives of all the Jewish people. The plan would take time and it involved her having to reveal her Jewish identity, appear before the King uninvited and make special preparations in order to expose Haman’s lies. Only then could she petition to the King to annul the decree. They were working with a deadline of the 13th of Adar and used their time wisely to plan, pray, fast and repent before attempting to save the Jewish nation.
One night, the King was having difficulty sleeping and to pass the time, had his Book of Chronicles read to him. Upon coming to the section regarding Mordechai having saved his life, King Ahashverush realized that Mordechai had never been royally honored for this! Meanwhile, as the King was thinking of ways in which to carry out the honor, Haman was on his way to visit the King. He just couldn’t shake his hatred for Mordechai who had again refused to bow down to him. He came to request permission for Mordechai to be hanged in advance of the 13th of Adar. Haman had it all worked out and would hang Mordechai on the gallows he had built for this purpose. Upon Haman’s visit, and before Haman could ask for permission, the King asked his loyal prime minister for his suggestion regarding a suitable honor for someone whom the King favored. Haman thought that he was the one in favor and thus suggested that it be regaland publicized. The King agreed and instructed Haman to take Mordechai out on the streets of Shushan and show him this honor! In other words, Haman had to be the one to carry out the King’s request and show Mordechai honor- on the very night he intended to have him killed!
All the while, Esther had strategically planned a drinking and feasting party for the King and Haman set for shortly after this. Haman was looking forward to his private audience with the royal couple as it reconfirmed his importance, however, it was there that Haman’s demise began. Esther used this planned opportunity to reveal herself as a Jew and petitioned to the King for her life and the lives of her people who were destined to die due to the decree Haman had influenced the King to sign off on. The King, having been previously unaware that his beloved Esther was a Jew, was angered at having been duped by Haman had him hanged on the very gallows that Haman had built to hang Mordechai! The King then made Mordechai the new prime minister who then set a new decree for the 13th of Adar – allowing the Jews kill their enemies instead!!
This is the story of Purim, albeit simplified here. It’s a story of despair turned to hope, courage turned to bravery and annihilation turned to salvation- evil was turned on its head! Esther and Mordechai certainly saved the day, and at first read, without the Almighty’s help! In fact, the Megilla never mentions G-d even once.
Contrast this with the salvation the Jews received during the events which we commemorate on Passover, where G-d’s involvement is explicitly stated in the Torah. It was G-d who parted the sea, made frogs fall from the sky and essentially destroyed the Egyptian empire. The Hand of G-d is evidenced throughout the Passover story, but not so in the story of Purim. However, as Rabbi Abraham Twersky says in his book, Life’s Blessings, “It is precisely the absence of any supernatural event that gives Purim its importance”. Why? Because the Purim story exemplifies that all events, be them ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’ are orchestrated and directed by G-d, just like the sequence of natural events that led to the salvation of the Jewish people in Persia so long ago.
G-d’s hand appears on a micro level in our everyday lives too. When my daughter was 2 she was riding her kiddie bike on our quiet street by our home. All of a sudden, when I took my eyes off of her for a second to tend to my baby, she had decided to race her bike towards oncoming traffic. Just then, my neighbor who ‘happened’ to be on the phone by his window noticed her darting for the road. He quickly ran outside and grabbed her moments before a Mack truck sped by. There was no doubt in my mind that G-d had orchestrated the events that lead to our neighbor being in the right place at right time to save our daughter from a potential disaster.
On a macro level, the Jewish people are again facing real and present danger from our enemies similar to the danger the Jews faced in Persia so long ago. Whether G-d chooses to use the natural or the supernatural ways when dealing with our enemies is beyond my scope, but what seems clear through the events of Purim, is that we need to do our part.
On March 3, 2015, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu will be petitioning on behalf of the Jewish people before the US Congress. There he is set to discuss the threats faced to us that are posed by the modern day Persia (Iran). Iran has a clear desire to destroy our nation and uses means of propaganda to influence others to desire the same. It is worthy to note that Bibi is set to deliver his speech on Taanit Esther, the fast of Esther, which is the eve before the holiday of Purim.
Natural, supernatural, intricate and simple…it’s our belief that G-d is in it all. Perhaps this is a great time for us to strengthen our faith in G-d as the One who ultimately protects us and empowers us to do our part to do the same for us and for one another.
Just like the plans of the evil were thwarted and turned upside down during the times of Purim, we should merit seeing the same happen today. Have a meaningful and happy Purim!