Purim is a celebration of the miracle whereby Mordechai Hatzaddik together with Queen Esther saved the Jews from annihilation by king Achashverosh and his viceroy Haman.
The story of Purim took place in the years between the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdosh and the building of the second one. The Babylonians, the reigning world power destroyed the first Holy Temple and took most of the Jewswho were still alive as captives down to Bavel (Babylonia); amongst the captives was Mordechai who had been part of the Sanhedrinin the Beis Hamikdosh. In Bavelhe was appointed to be one of the chavrei Beis Din who led the Jews there.
Soon after the Jewswere driven down to Bavel, the Babylonians themselves were overthrown by the Persians who became the new world power; the seat of world-government moved to Shushan in Persia and Mordechai, as one of the ruling elite, moved there.
In Shushan, King Achashverosh made a banquet lasting one hundred and eighty days to celebrate his ascent to power; he was not of royal descent but had married Vashti, the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzer (who had destroyed the Beis Hamikdosh). He invited representatives and officials from all the countries under Persian rule to this feast where he displayed his vast wealth, amongst them the stolen vessels of the Beis Hamikdosh.
Queen Vashti hosted a separate banquet for the women at the same time as the king but when Achasverosh, in a drunken fit, commanded her to appear before him she refused to obey the summons; in his drunken rage at her disobedience he had her killed. When Achasverosh became sober and realized what he had done he was distraught so in order to distract him his servants advised him to look for a new queen.
The search went on for four years; Achasverosh had a large portrait of Vashti and he compared each girl that was presented to him to this portrait but no-one was able to measure up to her beauty till he saw Esther, the niece of Mordechai. He was so captivated by her that he immediately crowned her as his new queen.
We then move to the next stage of the drama where Haman, a rabid anti-Semite rose to power as the viceroy (second-in-command) of the king; once he was in power he convinced the king to issue a decree to annihilate all the Jews under Persian rule.
And as we know, (because after all we do read the megillah) Queen Esther, following the advice of her uncle Mordechai managed to save her people. Haman was hung from the gallows and Mordechai became viceroy in his place, and all the Jews rejoiced and celebrated their deliverance from a certain death.
But if you study the megillah (as I like to do) you will find that Mordechai acted very strangely; he did things that actually seemed very dangerous at the time.
The first thing we see is that when Achashveroshmade his one hundred and eighty day banquet he also made a separate banquet for the Jews and in order to enable them to eat there he served food that was strictly kosher; even so Mordechaiabsolutely forbade the Jewsto partake of that feast. There were Jewswho maintained that since every single country under Achashverosh's rule had sent ministers and representatives to the banquet it would certainly seem like an act of rebellion against the king if only the Jewsrefused to participate. On the face of it not attending the banquet would "send a message" to Achashverosh that the Jews did not accept him as king, and this seemed a dangerous course of action with long-term repercussions.
Another odd thing is that when Esther became queen her uncle Mordechai told her not to divulge who she was or from which nation she was descended. That too seems the opposite of what one would normally expect; usually people in power want favors for their family or kinsmen so they make sure that everyone knows who they are.
And what about Bigson and Teresh who were angry with Achashverosh for demoting them from their positions as the supervisors of the palace gates to mere butlers, and therefore plotted to poison him? Mordechai overheard them discussing their plan and told Esther about it who disclosed it to the king. The king was saved and Bigsonand Teresh were put to death. What difference would it have made to Mordechaiif Achashverosh had been killed? He was a tyrant who only caused trouble for the Jews.
Later on we find the king commanding Hamanto honor Mordechaiby dressing him in the king's robes and leading him through the streets of Shushanriding on the king's own horse. However, when Haman had dressed Mordechai in the royal robes and told him to mount the horse, Mordechai, who had been fasting for three days and was weak, was unable to do so by himself. He told Haman to bend down so that he could use his back as a step to get up. Haman having no choice in the matter bent down and as Mordechai mounted he gave Haman a resounding kick. Now that would seem to be an extremely dangerous thing to do when you're dealing with the king's second-in-command.
But all this pales into insignificance when we see that Mordechai openly defied Haman and refused to bow down to him.
The king had approved a law that when Hamanpassed by all the people had to bow down to him. The law actually exempted ministers of government from bowing down to Hamanbecause it lowered their dignity so Mordechai, who had been promoted to the status of a minister, could easily have used that as an excuse without antagonizing Haman. Or else Mordechai could simply have stayed at home, out of sight, and no-one would have been any the wiser.
But Mordechai intentionally chose to sit at the public palace gates where everybody, including Haman, could clearly see his deliberate defiance. He also let it be known publicly that he was not willing to bow down purely and simply because he was a Jew. Once again, why was it necessary to antagonize such an important person who was known as a rabid anti-Semite?
And we know that this succeeded in enraging Hamanto such an extent that he went to the king (no lover of Jews either) determined to get a decree passed to exterminate Mordechaiand his people. Haman succeeded in overcoming Achashverosh's initial unwillingness to exterminate an entire nation and the decree was issued.
We know from the megillah that the Jews really were in extreme danger at the time; once the decree had been pronounced as law and sent out to every city and province in all the countries the world over, (Persia ruled over the whole world at the time), the gentilesbegan taunting the Jews with descriptions of how they would kill them and take all their possession. And there really was nowhere to run to because the decree was a world-wide one.
On the face of it, it looked as if Mordechai's actions had been the catalyst for this terrible misfortune because he had deliberately chosen to antagonize Haman; (we know from experience throughout the centuries that the best policy for us Jews is not to antagonize those in power).
And yet when Mordechai told the people that all these troubles had come upon them because they had sinned and that they needed to do teshuvah in order to repent everyone accepted his interpretation of the events as the correct one; because Mordechai was the tzaddik hador (righteous spiritual leader of the generation) it did not occur to anyone to blame him for the terrible danger they found themselves in. Instead we find that every single Jew, without exemption, listened to Mordechai, took to heart what he said and did what he asked, fasting and doing teshuvah.
And as we know (with hindsight we're all clever) Mordechai's actions were vindicated and he and Esther, with Hashem's help, saved the Jews.
What does this show us? What lesson can we learn from this? We can learn that if we follow the true tzaddikim with emunah p'shutah – simple emuna – without being "too clever" and thinking we know better, we will surely do the right thing.
Let me explain what I mean by this:
The Chazon Ish writes in a letter that a tzaddik amiti (a true tzaddik whose life revolves solely round the Torah) has developed within himself the ability to see and understand things that are not apparent to ordinary people, and which the tzaddik himself is unable to explain.
When a person lives in the holy boundariesofTorah, his thought processes have been honed and refined by the Torah alone; he has not absorbed any other method of evaluation and analysis that will dilute his ability to understand the perfection and flawless clarity of the Torah.
For that reason we have seen throughout the generations that the tzaddikei hador have issued decisions which to us, with our "faulty, i.e. worldly understanding", do not seem to be correct or relevant to the situation. And yet, in the long term they have always been proven to be correct.
When we respect and listen to our leaders whose da'as Torah is totally and completely the product of minds cleansed and purified by Torah study we can be positive that we are doing the right thing and following Hashem's wishes. The advice and guidance we are given by our spiritual leaders is based solely on Torah criteria and principles; and because they are true servants of Hashem they are, in addition, given siyatta dishmaya to guide us correctly.
It is in their zechus (merit) – and our zechus because we follow their rulings – that the Jewish Peoplehave survived intact as a pure and holy nation throughout the centuries.
All this is in contrast to those who do not believe in the truth of the Torah and whose opinions are formed by the prevailing influences and swayed by the wishes of the people.
Time and again we have seen that those who seek compromises and tamper with halachah fade away into oblivion. It's like a tree that if you tear out its roots the tree will wither and die. Throughout the centuries we have seen that those who weakened the authority of our manhigim and Rabbonim – who are our roots and anchor us – and changed the Torah to suit their needs are long gone and forgotten, assimilated amongst the nations, whilst we who follow our manhigim faithfully have survived and will continue to go forward as Am Yisroel.
Like Mordechai and Esther, chazak v'ematz, be strong, and against all odds you too will triumph!!
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