Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 7 March 2020 / 11 Adar II 5780

Purim - All in Hashems Hands

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
Library Library Library

The commentaries point out that unlike the Exodus from Egypt, when Hashem performed open miracles throughout, the final salvation of the Jewish People in the Purim story seemed almost completely natural. Achashverosh’s feast, Vashti’s execution, Esther’s election as queen, Haman’s rise to power, Mordechai’s role in saving the king’s life, and the victory over Amalek did not disobey the laws of nature. However, through analyzing the Megillah, a person is given a glimpse into how every seemingly natural event was carefully orchestrated and put in place by the guiding hand of Hashem. Based on this idea, the commentaries point out that everything mentioned in the Megillah somehow contributes to revealing how Hashem was behind it all.

With this in mind, let’s analyze the very first verse of the Megillah. The Megillah starts: “And it was in the days of Achashverosh, the Achashverosh who ruled from Hodu to Kush, over one hundred and twenty-seven regions.” The Gemara derives from the repetition of the name Achashverosh that he was the same wicked king from beginning to end (Megillah 11a). Since this is the very beginning of the Megillah, it must contain an important lesson about Hashem’s providence and involvement in the world. We must therefore ask ourselves: “What does the fact that Achashverosh was wicked from the beginning to the end teach us?”

The Mistake

The Gemara says that one of the reasons why Hashem decreed the Jewish People’s destruction was because they took pleasure in Achashverosh’s feast (Megillah 12a). Even though Mordechai, one of the leaders of the generation, forbade them from attending, the Jewish nation felt that it was politically correct for them to appear alongside all the other nations and citizens who attended the feast. The commentaries explain that their mistake was that they removed Hashem from the picture and based their decision on political considerations. Even though political considerations may sometimes be taken into account, once Mordechai had explicitly announced that in their situation political considerations were not a factor, they should have listened and strengthened their faith in Hashem. They should have believed with a full heart that Hashem is ultimately the One Who makes all political decisions, and that Achashverosh was no more than a puppet being controlled by Hashem, as it states, “Like streams of water is the heart of a king in the hand of Hashem, any way He wishes to, He leads it.” (Mishlei 21:1) Their failure to do so was considered a serious offense.

Fixing the Mistake

Mordechai and Esther both understood that in order for the decree to be overturned, the Jewish People would have to do teshuva for their offense of taking Hashem out of the picture. Esther therefore intentionally invited Haman to her feast in order to make it seem as though she was on Haman’s side, ultimately causing the Jewish nation to lose hope in their “political clout” in the palace and turn directly to Hashem to save them (see Megillah 15b).The Jewish People responded correctly, and instead of focusing on political tactics to overturn the decree, they turned directly to Hashem and prayed for things to change. Also, instead of looking for political solutions, they looked for ways to spiritually correct their previous mistakes. Therefore, to appropriately do teshuva for the pleasure they had from Achashverosh’s feast, they now deprived themselves of physical pleasure by fasting for three days. (Midrash Shochar Tov, Tehillim 22)

Salvation through the Wicked

Responding to their teshuva, Hashem turned everything upside down. Everything Haman had tried to do to destroy them now contributed to their salvation. The very night that Haman planned to convince Achashverosh to have Mordechai hanged ended up being the night on which Haman advised Achashverosh to extravagantly honor Mordechai. The very gallows that Haman prepared for Mordechai were used for his own hanging. The very day that Haman had decided would be the time to destroy the Jews was the day on which the Jews destroyed their enemies. Ultimately, Haman’s own proposal to kill Vashti paved the way for the ultimate salvation of the Jewish People, by bringing Esther to the palace. The turn of events in the Purim story truly embodied the verse “Many are the thoughts that are in the heart of man but the counsel of Hashem will prevail.”(Mishlei 19:21) This turn of events clearly demonstrated that Hashem can bring salvation even through the most calculated evil plans of the most wicked leaders (see Maharal on Esther 8:2, Gra on Esther 1:16).

Nothing but Hashem

But there is still one mistake the average reader of the Megillah might make. The reader may think that the salvation came about because Achashverosh had a change of heart and thus caused the surprise ending. To combat this thinking, Chazal tell us that Achashverosh remained the same wicked person, the same anti-Semite that he was at the beginning of the story. However, Hashem arranged it that his love for Esther would outweigh his hatred for the Jewish People. The Maharal explains that this is why at the very beginning of the Megillah we are told that Achashverosh did not budge from his evil ways. Only by knowing this fact can the reader truly appreciate how Hashem alone was the One who orchestrated the salvation of the Jewish People.

A primary lesson from the Purim story is to realize that Hashem runs the show, and even the seemingly most powerful people in the world are simply puppets in Hashem’s hands. This lesson is especially relevant in our times, when many put their faith in presidents and world leaders, falsely thinking that they are the ones who control the destiny of their countries and citizens. The Purim story reminds us that Hashem can make salvation sprout from even the most evil plans of the most wicked leaders. Everything is in Hashem’s hands! Our job is to keep the Torah and mitzahs without compromise, and to make sure not to remove Hashem from the picture. May we all merit taking this important lesson from the Purim story to heart.

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