by Rabbi Natan Halevy, BSD
This year we celebrate Purim going into Shabbat. Why is the celebration of this holiday, including the reading of the Megillah, so important? So much so that we are supposed to listen to every word of the Megillah reading and in Hebrew! Why do we accord such honor to Esther and Mordechai? And such disgrace to Haman? And why, with an important character like the mighty King Achashverosh, is there a certain ambiguity regarding our attitude towards him?
The Talmud recounts a discussion regarding the veracity of the Purim story and why it became part of the Torah. “From where do we know that Megillat Esther is from the Torah? As stated in Deuteronomy 31:18, ‘And I will hide My face on that day,’ etc.” The word ‘hide’ in Hebrew is related to the name Esther. Purim essence is revealing light in times of strong concealment.
The megillah reads like a play with villains, heroes, and other witting and unwitting characters who all have a special role. Purim was a difficult period in history for our nation. It was sometime after the destruction of the first temple, after the entire nation had been forcibly exiled from Israel. It was a challenging time in both the physical and spiritual sense. Some in the nation felt as if Hashem had abandoned us. And then came along Haman, a deluded egomaniac who considered himself to be a deity. He was a descendant of Amalek royalty, and he was wholly devoted to his hatred for our nation. Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to Haman enraged him so much that he wanted to exterminate all of Israel–men, women, and children; young and old.
The Megillah uses the famous words “ve’nahafoch hu”—‘it was reversed.’ Hashem completely flipped the situation and our nation came out on top. In the discussion of what was the greatest of the numerous miracles in this story, this verse is the final supposition of what was the pivotal moment of the Megillah: “On that night, the king’s [Achashverosh’s] sleep was disturbed, and he ordered to bring the book of the records, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. And it was found written that Mordecai had reported about [the plot to assassinate Achashverosh].” Why was this the pivotal moment? Why not any of Esther or Mordechai’s heroics?
Hashem accords all leaders with some of his honor and glory. The spiritual and physical level of this glory varies depending on the level of the leader, the number of people they lead, and the standing of the country or land they lead. Achashverosh is said to have ruled over 127 lands, from Hodu until Cush. He was, with his numerous flaws, the most powerful king of his time. When he ‘woke up’ this represented the turning point of this story, and Haman’s plans were foiled.
On a deeper level, Achashverosh’s naming also includes Hashem in this story. In the entire Megillah, Hashem’s name is not mentioned directly once. However, ‘the King’ in the Megillah may also be interpreted as referring to Hashem. King David says “[Hashem] will not sleep or slumber, He continuously guards Israel.” Yet at times, it seems as if Hashem has ‘forgotten us’, and is ‘sleeping’.
All challenging times are compared to a dark night. Purim was a time of great darkness, hence the verse specifies that the King, Hashem, woke up on ‘that night’. The spiritual arousal of Esther and Mordechai and the entire nation led to Hashem waking up.
The Torah says, “I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the Lord Who sanctifies you.” The Midrash comments: “My holiness above is dependent on your holiness below, if there is no holiness in this realm, there is no holiness above.” Hashem created a spiritual network of worlds that are connected to each other. For this reason, Jewish ritual mourning laws are so exact; our actions here have an effect on the souls of those in the spiritual realms.
This also relates to the aforementioned idea of the concealment of light which leads to difficulties in this realm. This is why we must rejoice on Purim. We must make others happy as well. Joy breaks all boundaries. Creating joy is shining light into this ‘apparent darkness.’ Also, “a person must rejoice on Purim until they can’t recognize the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ to ‘blessed is Mordechai.’” When a person reaches deeper levels of trust with Hashem, they begin to see the divine plan in everything.
Purim reminds us that no matter how dark the situation, Hashem is always involved. Sometimes he is just pushing us to reach a higher level and wake up, in order that we can wake Hashem up and change reality in truly miraculous ways.
May we merit to continue to see these miracles and be blessed with health and prosperity, Amen.