Purim, Then and Now
By Avi Lazerson
The holy words of the entire Bible are meant for us in each generation. This includes the teachings in the Talmud. The entire tractate Megillah deals with the all aspects of Purim.
The tractate relates that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi would begin his Purim discourse by quoting Deuteronomy 28:63 "And it shall be that just as G-d rejoiced (Hebrew: Sos) over you, to do you good and multiply you, so G-d will rejoice (Hebrew: HaSis) over you to destroy and perish you." He continued, "Does indeed G-d rejoice when evil doers are destroyed?" He then brought proof that G-d does not rejoice even with the death of evil doers. He explained that the second word for rejoicing (Hebrew: HaSis) is not the same as the first (Hebrew: Sos). The second word, HaSis, is the causative form, meaning He causes others to rejoice, but He does not rejoice. Who are those who rejoice at the downfall of the Jews? It is the wicked nations!
What does this have to do with Purim? And why do we care that the wicked nations rejoice at the downfall of the Jews?
In the Purim story, G-d's Divine Providence brought about a decree of total destruction upon the Jews. Achashverous, King of Persia gave the wicked Haman the power to do to the Jews as he saw fit. Haman decreed that the Jews be killed and their possessions taken. The reason for this decree was that the Jews had sinned by participating in a festive meal given by the King. He was celebrating two things: 1) the consolidation of his empire, and 2) the non-fulfillment of the redemption of the Jews with the rebuilding of the Temple. According to a known prophecy, the Babylonian exile was to end after seventy years. Then the Jews would return to the Land of Israel and rebuild the Temple. Achashverous made a reckoning of when the seventy years would end and according to his calculation the time of the prophetic redemption had passed and G-d's promise would never be fulfilled.
He ordered lavish meals prepared and invited all of the citizens of his great empire to participate. The sacred vessels that were looted from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem were brought out and used in a profane manner. The Jews attended this party and enjoyed the festivities in spite of seeing the holy vessels disgraced. In addition they had previously bowed down to an idol that Nebuchadnezer had set up.
These were terrible sins but the Jews were not yet ready to repent. In order to bring about their redemption it was necessary for the Jews to admit their sins and return to G-d wholeheartedly. Towards this end Providence empowered Haman to decree a death sentence upon all Jews of the kingdom. The Jews had no political or military power to change this decree and were forced to seek G-d's help. They fasted and prayed with all of their hearts, and returned to Him. This was what G-d desired and subsequently Haman fell from power. King Achashverous empowered Mordechai to counter his decree enabling the Jews to fight back.
Using our imagination we can understand how the Jews felt. When Achashverous's calculation of the end of the seventy years of exile came and passed, the Jews believed that indeed, there would be no redemption. They felt abandoned by G-d, resigned themselves to remaining in exile, and sunk into a communal depression that dulled their spirits and faith in G-d. This led them to succumb to the temptation to participate in the King's festive meal which celebrated the destruction of the Temple and the reign of Achasverous. G-d in his goodness brought upon them Haman's terrible decree in order to return their hearts to him.
In the end, G-d's promise was fulfilled. The evil decree was overturned, and the second Temple was built. Many Jews returned to the Land of Israel and a second commonwealth was established that lasted approximately five hundred years.
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In our own time we have seen unbelievable, historic events unfold. For two thousand years the Jews have lived through a terrible exile, somehow surviving the twin dangers of persecution and assimilation. Just sixty years ago we witnessed one of the worst slaughters of mankind and of our people in history. A wicked Haman named Hitler convinced an enlightened nation that the Jews were responsible for their woes, and six million Jews were murdered! Our enemies were truly happy at our downfall, yet in the end, they too met their bitter end.
On the heels of this national holocaust came the realization of a two thousand year-old dream the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. These two unbelievable events came only a few years apart. In addition, we have seen the miraculous defeat of the united Arab armies in several wars and the building of a truly modern state that has surpassed all other countries in the region.
Today, we are faced with two new dangers: 1) the nuclear threat from Iran and 2) the Jew-hating government of Hamas being formed in the west bank and Gaza. The goal of these two groups is to purge the Jews from their land, the land that G-d in His infinite kindness desires to have rebuilt and resettled by the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
If we consider the wealth and power of our enemies, their oil-bought influence and their fanatic desire to kill "infidels", the future looks dim. Today they seem to have the upper hand and we are justifiably concerned. But we must realize that like Hitler and Haman that preceded them, they too will be destroyed. When the wicked nations rejoice over the downfall of the Jews, it is only in order to bring something good into the world.
This is the Purim message for our times from Rabbi Yehosua ben Levi. We must not fall into despair over the gains of our enemies, for the G-d of our forefathers is with us. He desires to fulfill the promise that He made to bring back the exiles to their homeland, Israel. He desires that the Third and final Temple be rebuilt in Jerusalem. He desires that all mankind call upon Him in truth and abandon their faith in false gods and prophets.
We must realize that we have entered into the time of the righteous messiah and that we shall prevail. This is Purim.
from the March 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine