Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 7 March 2009 / 11 Adar I 5769

Puerile Purim

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Pamela in Portland, OR

Dear Rabbi,

I seem to remember some story about school children saving the day for Mordechai against Haman. Could you refresh my memory and explain what that was all about. I teach at a Jewish school and think my kids could relate to the involvement of children in the Purim story. Thanks in advance.

Dear Pamela,

It seems you are referring to the Midrash which relates that after the letters decreeing the destruction of the Jews were sealed and sent in Achashverosh’s name, Haman and his cohorts rejoiced. They then saw Mordechai approach three school children, each of whom he asked to recite a verse he’d learned (children, according to the Talmud, can be a source of prophetic information even after the destruction of the Temple and termination of true prophecy).

The first child replied by quoting “Have no fear of sudden dread, or of the calamity of the wicked when it comes” (Prov. 3:25). The second answered, “Take counsel [you enemies of the Jews] and it shall be nullified, speak a word and it does not transpire, for G-d is with us” (Is. 8:10). The third child cited a verse in which G-d says, “Until old age I am…I shall endure and I shall save” (Is. 46:4). After hearing these verses, Mordechai became very happy and began to laugh.

When Haman saw that Mordechai, who should have been mourning because of the decree, was actually jumping for joy, he became irate. “What have these children told you that has made you so happy?” Mordechai replied, “They have revealed to me that we need not fear your evil counsel which you have contrived against us because G-d will rescue us from your evil designs.” The enraged Haman retorted, “I’ll show you. I shall start the slaughter with none other than these very children.”

Of course, Haman’s declaration against the children was never executed – he was. But what was the meaning of this exchange with the children and in what way did the verses they quoted prophetically reveal G-d’s intention to save the Jews?

Mordechai realized that these three verses allude to the three wars that Amalek waged against Israel whom G-d delivered, and would deliver, from their archenemy. The first time Amalek attacked Israel they did so suddenly after the Jews departed from slavery in Egypt: “And they happened upon you while you were on your way” (Deut. 25:18). The verse quoted by the first child applies to this war, for it states: “Have no fear of sudden dread”. The second time Amalak attacked, they plotted against Israel in disguise as Canaanites to trick and confuse the Jews’ tactics and prayers. The verse quoted by the second child thus assures: “[Their] counsel shall be nullified”.

The third attack of Amalek against the Jews was lead by the Amalekite Haman. In the letter he composed in the name of Achashverosh to the nations he wrote that the time had come that this people could finally be destroyed. Their G-d, he claimed, had grown old. Just as He was not able to save His Temple from the onslaught of Nevuchadnetzar, so too could He no longer save His people from destruction. G-d’s response to Haman’s audacity was communicated through the verse quoted by the third child: “Until old age I am…I shall endure and I shall save.”

Thus encouraged by the prophetic inspiration communicated through these pure and Jewishly-learned children, Mordechai led his people to a third victory over the forces of evil as described in the Megilla. May the Hamans of the world and their cohorts be eradicated for good and may we merit the final redemption speedily in our days. Amen.

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