November 15, 2019

Table for Five: Purim

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

The king said to Haman, “Hurry! Take the garment and the horse just as you have said, and do just so for Mordechai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Do not leave out a thing from all that you suggested.” –Esther 6:10

Kylie Ora Lobell
Jewish Journal contributing writer 

In this scene from Megillat Esther, King Ahasuerus has just discovered that Mordechai foiled an assassination plot, and the king wishes to honor him. He asks Haman what that honor should look like, and Haman thinks, mistakenly, that the honor is for himself. He ends up having to lead Mordechai through the city and telling everyone how wonderful Mordechai is. 

Ever since the Jewish people have come into existence, hateful people like Haman have attempted to wipe us out. Sadly, anti-Semitism is on the rise again, even in the United States — just look at the recent comments from two U.S. congresswomen on the left, and the scary websites run by far-right trolls on the dark corners of the internet. 

Until redemption comes, anti-Semitism will sadly never go away. There will always be jealous, spiteful, God-hating individuals in the world who want to destroy us. But I’m confident that we will survive every attack, just like we did over and over in years past, including in the story of Purim. 

Haman was a very powerful man, and yet in the end, he failed and the Jews won. We turned what was to be a tragic day into the most joyous one on the Jewish calendar. I’m hopeful that when Moshiach comes soon, anti-Semitism will finally be wiped away, and the Jews will prevail like they did in Shushan. We will truly shine, showing the world our status as a light unto the nations. May you have a wonderful, joyous and meaningful Purim!

Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon
Motivational speaker

The instructions relayed by King Ahaseurus to Haman to assist Mordechai the Jew by preparing his apparel and horse without delay, goes to the core of the poetic justice that personifies the story of Purim. 

The sudden turn of fate whereby Haman, who had planned Mordechai’s demise in detail, was about to meet the exact fate he planned for Mordechai, highlights two of the most important themes of Purim:

Firstly, the emotion of laughter. There is no greater reversal than the prospect of immediate death replaced with life. The first time the concept of laughter appears in the Torah is in the context of Yitzchak. In addition to the allusion to laughter in Yitzchak’s name, our Sages teach that Yitzchak’s return from imminent death reflects the ultimate sudden reversal which is the greatest possible trigger of laughter. Similarly, the sudden twist of fate in the story of Purim is the source of the laughter synonymous with Purim. 

Secondly, just like HaShem’s name does not appear anywhere in the Megillah, similarly, HaShem himself appears to be hidden in our lives. The life lesson we need to take to heart is that just as the sudden turn of fate and happy ending in the story of the Megillah could not have been predicted, often in our lives, while we may understandably feel anxious at times, a Jew dare not despair because while seemingly hidden, HaShem is the ultimate director and each of our screenplays is customized for our good with altruistic love.

Rivkah Slonim
Education director, Rohr Chabad Center at Binghamton University, New York

Jewish Mysticism has an uncanny way of illuminating the least expected connections.

The Arizal taught that the roshei tevet an acrostic of the words “et hasoos v’et halevush,” the horse and the clothing, is the same as for the words “et hashamayim v’et ha-aretz,” the heavens and the earth in the first verse of the Torah. Those letters comprise one of the holy names for HaShem. The Chabad rebbes expounded that the secret of creation — heaven and earth — is God’s desire that we transform this lowly temporal existence into a majestic dwelling place for the divine. Not just in the obvious way of embracing that which is overtly holy. Nor even by transforming the otherwise neutral by using it for sacred purpose. But even by extricating the sparks of divinity that have fallen to the other side. The unholy. 

Hurry, says King Ahaseurus to Haman: dress Mordechai, parade him through the streets of the capital city seated on the king’s horse, and proclaim his greatness. Do this with alacrity!

If Haman would not have done so, he would have remained forever beyond the pale, with no tie to holiness. After this deed, there was room for reprisal; some of his descendants became involved in holiness.

What better holiday for highlighting this lesson than Purim, which is all about v’nehafach hu, inverting all paradigms? And what better time than now? Quickly, let’s bring the redemption; let’s expose the source of all earthiness that is in heaven. Even the Hamans.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Professor of Talmud, Yeshiva University

The rabbis understood the name of the biblical book describing the events of the Purim story in a profound way. Esther, the heroine, shares the Hebrew root of the word for hidden; megillah is connected to the idea of uncovering, revealing. Megillat Esther is nothing less than the one book of the Torah that helps us to recognize the hidden ways in which our lives follow the path of divine destiny.

One verse is the key to understanding the concept. It is perhaps the greatest biblical illustration of a fundamental theological principle of our faith. Haman has just described the glorious honor he believes is intended for himself — only to be told by the king in Chapter 6, Verse 10 that the recipient is to be Haman’s archenemy, Mordechai. More, according to the remarkable interpretation of the midrash, whenever the word “king” is used in the Megillah, it refers both to the king below and the king above. It is God himself who has spoken. It is God who decreed that the very same plan devised by the wicked for their personal grandeur will be granted to the righteous. Similarly, Haman will be hanged on the very tree he prepared as gallows for Mordechai.

It is the concept of karma. But it is far more than fate. It is the universe’s divine secret. What goes around comes back around. The hidden message this verse reveals is the remarkable truth that human beings are not punished for their sins — but by them.

David Sacks

Everything can change in an instant. King David writes in the Psalms, “I look up to the mountains, from where my help will come?” The Vilna Gaon notes that if you take the Hebrew literally, the verse actually says, “I look up to the mountains, from out of nowhere my help will come. 

In other words, salvation can come in the blink of an eye. The phone can ring with good news, you can suddenly meet your soulmate, healing can arrive because nothing is difficult for God. Think about it. God created the entire universe out of nothingness. Certainly, he can bring about whatever he wants, whenever he wants. 

Purim teaches us that these miraculous salvations, which come seemingly out of nowhere, are being prepared for us right in front of our eyes. God does this by guiding the world with his hidden hand. 

When I was a new father, I got a glimpse of how this process works. My newborn was hungry and crying. I started making a bottle for him — the very thing he wanted most — but still he kept crying. I didn’t understand why. Later I learned that newborns can see only a few inches in front of their faces. 

And then I realized that’s all of us!

Purim is the capital of when secrets become revealed. May HaShem open our eyes, and speedily reveal all the blessings he’s been preparing for us since the world was created so that we can serve him with absolute joy.