Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 19 March 2016 / 9 Adar II 5776

Purim - its laws and lessons for life

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Megillat Esther is the classic work that teaches us how to see the guiding hand of G-d — even in seemingly natural events. Just as through analyzing the intricate details of the megillah every “coincidence” is revealed to be another piece of a puzzle leading to the ultimate salvation, the same is true in our own lives. Through careful analysis, every event is shown to be a part of a greater and unifying purpose. The commentaries take this idea further and suggest that even the intricate details of the laws of just reading the megillah teach us life lessons about revealing G-d’s providence in our daily lives.

Not Missing a Word

With regard to the mitzvah of hearing the megillah, the halacha states that if a person fails to hear even one word of the megillah he has not fulfilled his obligation. This halacha holds true even if the word that he missed does not appear to make the story any less clear (see Mishna Berura 690:3 and 690:50 and Bi’ur Halacha there). This somewhat confusing halacha compels us to study it and glean the life lessons contained therein.

The second verse in Megillat Esther says: In those days when the King Achashverosh was sitting on his throne that was in Shushan. At first glance it seems as though the megillah is providing a historical fact. However, this is not so, as Chazal explain how such a small, “insignificant” statement is replete with hashgacha pratit (Divine providence). The Midrash explains that Achashverosh longed to have Shlomo Hamelech’s magnificent throne. He therefore hired artisans in Shushan to build a throne identical to the original. However, after the throne’s completion, they realized that it was too heavy to be brought to Bavel, which was the true capital of Achashverosh’s empire. Achashverosh desired this royal throne so much that he decided to change his capital from Bavel to Shushan so that he would be able to rule while seated on it (Esther Rabbah 1:12).

The Vilna Gaon points out that only by closely following the storyline we realize that G-d caused all this to happen because Mordechai and Esther lived in the city of Shushan. This seemingly minor detail of the location of Achashverosh’s throne actually set the stage for the entire story of Purim!

The Vilna Gaon further explains that this is the reason behind the halachah mentioned earlier. Missing even one tiny point in the megillah takes away from the ultimate goal of seeing G-d’s providence in every part of the Jewish People’s salvation (Vilna Gaon’s commentary on Megillat Esther 1:2). The life lesson learned from this halacha is that every event from our own personal lives is invaluable. Even trivial things that at the time seem to be meaningless and unintentional contribute to a grander and larger picture of how our lives turn out.

Reading in Order

Another halacha regarding the reading of the megillah states that one who reads the megillah out of order has not fulfilled his obligation. Similar to the above, this halacha also applies even if the change in order has no apparent bearing on the outcome of the story. What can we learn from this halacha?

The megillah says: After these events, the King Achashverosh promoted Haman, the son of Hamdata the Agagi, and lifted him, and put his seat above all the other officers that were with him (Esther 3:1).

The gemara comments: “After these events” — Rava said: “after Hakadosh Baruch Hu created the remedy before the affliction, like Reish Lakish said: Hakadosh Baruch Hu doesn’t afflict Israel until He creates the remedy for it first.” (Tractate Megillah 13b)

How did G-d create the remedy before the affliction? Before Haman was promoted, Esther was already chosen as queen and Mordechai had already saved the king’s life by foiling Bigtan and Teresh’s assassination plot. As we know, both of these events led to the downfall of Haman and to the Jewish People’s victory over Amalek. The Vilna Gaon explains that this is one reason why one who reads the megillah out of order has not fulfilled his obligation. By reading the events of the story of Purim out of order, one is missing a crucial aspect of seeing how G-d planned things precisely to happen at the right time. No event, no matter how small, took place unless it was the absolute perfect time for it to take place. It is only through reading the megillah in order that one can fully appreciate the master plan that G-d orchestrated in bringing about the salvation of the Jewish People. (Vilna Gaon’s commentary on Megillat Esther 1:2)

The lesson learned from this is clear. In our everyday lives we may often question why certain events had to happen at times when we were seemingly least equipped to deal with them. We say things like, “If only this would have happened a week ago or in a month from now, then everything would have worked out better”. Through careful analysis of the chain of events in the megillah we learn the important lesson that everything happens only at the most opportune time with absolute precision and planning. Though at times things may seem to be anything but timely, we must remember that in G-d’s master plan, everything happens at the right time.

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