Going Back to Purim



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Visit to Shushan and Mordechai

By Mendel Weinberger

I met Uri, my guide, at the appointed place, the corner of Malchei Yisrael and Matisyahu streets in the Geulah neighborhood of Jerusalem. He told me to slow down, to stop desperately rushing to do things.

"If you want to write something about Purim," he said. "Relax a little and let it come to you and thru you."

"I hear you," I said. "Today I would like you to take me to Shushan, to meet Mordechai Hayehudi (Mordechai the Jew)."

"Okay," said Uri. "We will fly there."

We walked down a side street and entered a deserted park. Uri put his hand on my shoulder and we took off into the air. We flew up over the trees and high up into the sky. I saw the houses and cars in Jerusalem becoming smaller and then Uri turned our journey towards the east. As we flew over Mea Shearim and then East Jerusalem, I wondered if anyone could see us. Maybe we would show up on the army's radar screens and shot down as a UFO. Uri seemed to read my mind and told me not to worry, that we were flying in the fourth dimension and were virtually invisible. Soon we were over the desert hills outside the city and then the Dead Sea. We crossed the Dead Sea then crossed a huge desert. After crossing over two rivers I saw what looked like a walled city in the distance. As we came closer to the city Uri began to direct our descent. We landed a short distance away from the gate of the city.

"Here we are in Shushan, the capital of Persia in the year 3404," said Uri.

"Can they see us now?" I asked remembering Uri's comment about traveling through the fourth dimension.

"Yes they can. We needed to enter the fourth dimension in order to travel through time and space. But now we are back in a three-dimensional world."

A thought popped into my head. "Uri, how are we going to speak to these people? I don't know a word of ancient Persian."

"Don't worry about it," he replied. "When we passed from the fourth to the third dimension, we automatically absorbed the language of this land."

We approached the gate and two guards stood before us, each holding a long spear. My heart was beating wildly but I tried to appear relaxed and confident.

"Halt in the name of the King," said the taller one with the black mustache. "Identify yourselves and your purpose in entering the city."

"We have come to see Mordechai Hayehudi," said Uri confidently.

Then he held up his right hand in front of the two guards. There was a symbol of an eye painted black in the center of his palm. When they gazed at it, I saw a look of fear appear on their faces. They quickly opened the heavy wooden doors and stood to the side as we passed through. Uri quietly laughed to himself.

"What was that on your hand?" I asked.

"Oh, well, that what is called the evil eye. The Persians are an extremely superstitious lot and that symbol is enough to scare them out of their wits."

As soon as we entered the city, I saw an old man sitting on the ground to the right of the gate. He was dressed in sackcloth and his forehead was smeared with ashes. There was a parchment scroll open on his lap and he was reciting what to me looked like Psalms. Tears flowed freely from his eyes and down his white beard.

"That's him!" cried Uri. "That's Mordechai Hayehudi."

"Are you sure?" I asked. "What's he doing sitting on the ground crying over that scroll?"

"Don't you remember the story of Purim? After Haman's decree of annihilation of the Jews was sealed by the King and sent throughout the Persian Empire, Mordechai donned sackcloth and ashes and sat at the King's Gate crying bitterly over the fate of his brethren."

"Oh, of course I remember. I guess I didn't expect to see him right away. "Can we speak to him?"

"Of course we can," said Uri. "That's why we came, isn't it? Go ahead, speak up."

"Me!" I said. "I can't speak to a tzaddik (righteous person). You do it."

"No way, Shmuel. You requested this meeting. Now let's go. I'll be right next to you."

We walked together towards Mordechai and stopped about six feet before him. He didn't look up. Uri elbowed me in the ribs.

"Excuse me Rabbi," I croaked. "Could you spare a few minutes to speak to us?"

He stopped saying Psalms and looked up at me. His clear blue eyes pierced my soul. My hands were shaking and my heart was beating wildly.

"Young man," he said. "The sword of death hangs over my people and no one knows whether or not it will fall. But I know that my place is here reciting the sacred Psalms of King David in order to arouse mercy from on high. I am sorry that I cannot interrupt this for even a short time to talk to you."

While he talked, I noticed he was staring at my clothing. My black suit and fedora hat was not a familiar sight in the year 3404. His eyes were serious, yet gentle. Uri stepped forward and spoke.

"With your permission, my exalted Rabbi, I would dare speak a few words to you. My name is Uri, son of Moshe, and my friend is Shmuel, the son of Chaim. We have come from a distant time and place, The Land of Israel in the year 5766 to be exact. By the word of many sages we are the generation called the Heels of the Messiah. We currently suffer greatly, despite the fact that we have returned to the Holy Land and settled it from Mt. Hermon to the Reed Sea. The sons of Ishmael have vowed to annihilate us. They have been given permission from on high to kill and wound us with fire sticks and powder bombs. There is fear in the air of Israel. A situation exists not dissimilar to the Persian Empire under Achashverosh, the King. We have come to you seeking wisdom and counsel."

Uri had spoken well. I could tell Mordechai was moved.

"Very well," said Mordechai getting up. "Follow me to my home. We can talk there."

He walked quickly through the Shushan Market where shopkeepers shouted the prices of their produce, clothing and pottery vessels in a way that reminded me of Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Some children stopped to point at our strange dress but most people were too busy to notice us. Shushan was the capital city so I suppose they were used to strangers passing through. Suddenly there was a commotion up ahead of us. A crowd had formed and a horse-drawn carriage was slowly passing thru it. The crowd parted and every single person bowed down to the ground as the carriage passed. Mordechai stood off to the side but when the carriage reached us he did not bow as all the others did. We stood with him. I looked at the passenger and was shocked by what I saw. A dark-haired man with a black mustache dressed in red velvet robes sat on the seat of the coach. Suddenly he called out to the driver to stop. This mysterious passenger then climbed down from the coach and approached Mordechai. Uri and I stood behind him. The man was unusually short and walked with the aid of a silver cane. He scowled as he spoke. Uri elbowed me in the ribs and whispered in my ear that this was Haman.

"Who dares to refuse to bow to the king's trusted viceroy?" he said sneering at Mordechai.

Mordechai calmly stood his ground. "I bow before the Creator of heaven and earth; not before anything or anyone else," he said.

"Your sickening show of piety and righteousness won't do you any good at the end of the hangman's noose, my friend Mordechai!"

Mordechai answered calmly, "The G-d of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps, so I have no reason to fear you. But you should beware that your very own words may come back upon you."

Haman laughed and held up his hand showing a large gold ring. "Do you see this ring, Mordechai? It is the king's signet ring. With it I will seal your fate and by tomorrow see you swing from the gallows. Ha, ha, ha…."

Then he turned away from us, climbed back into his carriage, and rode off. I shuddered inside having witnessed the evil of the man Haman whom I had only read about in the Megillah story. My respect and even awe of the great tzadik Mordechai grew a hundred fold.

Mordechai motioned for us to follow him as he turned down a side street.

About half way down the street, he turned left down an even narrower street that appeared to be a dead end. He stopped in front of a green door. He looked left then right and when he saw that the street was deserted he pushed the door open and walked thru. We followed and entered a simple, yet orderly room. A low table surrounded by pillows stood in the center and Mordechai invited us to sit down. I sat down on a large blue cushion and Uri sat beside me. Meanwhile Mordechai walked to the end of the room where a large cone-shaped wood burning stove was standing. A plumpish woman stood before the stove with her back to us. He whispered a few words in her ear, and then returned to us. I assumed it was his wife. A few minutes later she served us tea from a samovar. Mordechai asked us in perfect Hebrew how he could be of assistance.

Uri nodded for me to begin. "We live in a time of great internal strife," I said. "The miraculous return to Zion, which began around 5680, culminated in a great war of independence in the year 5708. Jews from every corner of the world began to arrive to help build the new nation. The swamps were drained, the deserts planted with fruit trees, and for the first time in 2000 years Jews lived and worked on our own land. A small but skillful army protected the land and new cities sprung up overnight. With G-d's blessing the land prospered with much support coming from those Jews who remained behind in galut (the exile). Though the nation's leaders were secular, those who kept the law remained a small, vocal minority. Houses of study were built and words of Torah resounded throughout the land. Our Arab neighbors made three more attempts to conquer the land but G-d protected us and our army stood against them."

I stopped speaking for a moment and looked at Mordechai. His eyes were fixed on mine, yet he seemed to look through me, towards some distant place in time. He nodded to me. "Please continue," he said.

"Now with all this success, a plague festers from within. Corruption has erupted on a scale that is hard to imagine. Political leaders fill their pockets with gold while poverty increases throughout the populace. Jews no longer work the land. Rather we hire goyim (Gentiles) from other lands to come and pick our produce. The army is demoralized, unable to defeat the uprising of the children of Ishmael because of restraints placed upon it by cowardly politicians. Children from homes where Torah observance is strong have opted instead to walk the streets looking for the pleasures of youth. The rich nations of the world have infected the culture of Israel with strange worship and the peace between husbands and wives has been stretched to the breaking point. There is restlessness in the air, a feeling of insecurity, of disillusionment with the dream of the return to Zion. We need help to hold on until King Messiah comes."

Mordechai, who had been gazing at the tabletop while I spoke, lifted his eyes to meet mine. There was gentleness in them, yet something else as well; a kind of knowing that perceives that beyond all the changes, the ebb and flow of the tides of time, there is bedrock of stability- and that stability is faith. He stroked his long white beard and began to speak.

"When pain is felt at the bottom of the feet, one must heal the top to the head."

I knitted my brow trying to figure out what he meant. I looked at Uri but he seemed baffled as well.

"I'm sure you know of the ten sephirot (lumenations) on the Tree of Life," he said. "The lowest sephira is malchut (kingship). It rules one's thought speech, and action. When malchut becomes corrupt and even Torah becomes "culture", then one cannot repair the breach through the six emotional attributes; not even through the three intellectual powers of chachma, bina, and da'at. The tikun (repair) can only come from the transcendent level of keter – the crown."

"Just as the physical body is a vessel that contains our intellect, emotions, and ability to act, the sephira of keter is a vessel to receive the three transcendent powers of ratzon (will), ta'anug (pleasure), and emunah (faith). When these three powers are active, then malchut automatically functions as an expression of the Divine Wisdom of the Torah."

"Can you explain to us about these three powers?" I asked.

Of, course. Though they are three powers, each is united with the other two in a causative relationship. Emuna (faith) is awareness of godliness on the highest level. One knows that G-d is absolutely everything, everything is G-d, and all that G-d does is absolutely for the good. One feels G-d's overwhelming Presence at every moment and therefore one's own relative insignificance. This awareness takes practice. That's why the word emuna comes from the root word oman to practice a craft. This practice is done by taking time for deep meditation every day before prayer."

"When this faith takes hold, one feels great pleasure, greater and more secure than any earthly pleasure. It is a pleasure that is independent of any external factor; like a wellspring that bubbles up from underground. The joy erupts from the center of one's being and radiates into all the limbs of the body. This is the simple pleasure of feeling G-d's Presence within you. Subsequently, one now approaches the Torah with an eagerness and commitment never known before. If one truly feels G-d's Presence and the joy that flows from that feeling, then one run's to fulfill the Will of G-d. And it doesn't matter whether His Will is to study the law, give a coin to a poor man, or build a booth on Succot, a person will fulfill that commandment with a powerful will. For now he is not being coerced from without, he is moved to act from within his own soul."

"When these three powers are united and actualized, then the crown is placed on the king's head and he has the power to rule. Without the crown, the king is merely an imposter."

Mordechai stopped speaking. I sat trying to absorb what he had said. It seemed to me that this kind of service to G-d was too lofty for me or any of my friends.

"What can we do to fix this breach in faith?" I asked.

"You can begin by working on yourself, by being a model of faith. Join together with others who share a similar goal and encourage one another," said Mordechai.

I looked at Uri. He looked pretty serious; Mordechai's words had really touched him. I looked into myself and realized how frivolous I had become, how almost cynical about the possibility of real change in myself and others. In the midst of my reverie my thoughts were interrupted by our host.

"I'm sorry but I must go now," said Mordechai. "We have planned a large prayer gathering in the King's Plaza for all the children of Shushan and I must be there to lead them. It is beginning in a quarter of an hour. Perhaps you would like to join me?"

I looked at Uri and then back at Mordechai and we both shouted "YES!"

Mordechai stood up, walked over to the woman standing at the stove, and whispered something in her ear. She then disappeared into a side room for a few minutes. When she returned she was carrying two long robes similar to the one Mordechai was wearing as well as what looked like two bright blue turbans. She laid them down on the pillow beside us.

"Put on these robes and no one will notice you," he said.

We took off our jackets and put the robes on over our clothes. It felt strange at first but I was glad to be inconspicuous. With the turbans on our heads we followed Mordechai out of the house. He took us back to the market and through to the other side of the city where we found the large square called the King's Plaza, so called because it was directly in front of the King's Palace. The place was packed with thousands of school children all dressed in sackcloth, the girls on one side and the boys on the other. A platform was built at the end and Mordechai lead us there. As we climbed up the stairs the children immediately became quiet. The great sage then addressed the crowd.

"We are gathered here today because a terrible decree hangs over our heads," he said. "It is a decree of annihilation of the entire Jewish People! And you children who have not known sin and who have a pure mouth will be the emissaries to beseech our Father in heaven to annul this decree. Your words will be the words of King David, the sweet singer of Israel who has given us his Tehilim to plead our cause. We will begin at the beginning and say the entire book. Open your scrolls now."

We watched as each child took out a rolled parchment and opened it. Uri and I were each given one too. In a loud voice choked with emotion Mordechai began to recite.

"Ashrei ha-ish asher lo halach be-atzat reshaim…" (Happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked and in the way of sinners he does not stand and in the place of scorners he does not sit.)

The children recited the words along with Mordechai with tears in their eyes. Uri and I said them too and it was hard not to get caught up in the great wave of prayer as it rose up from the square. Soon I felt the hot flow of tears streaming down my cheeks as we all stormed the heavens beseeching the G-d of Israel to save us. After about an hour of recitation of Psalms there was a commotion in front of the platform. Armed guards pushed their way through the children sitting on the ground and right behind them was Mordechai's arch nemesis, the wicked Haman. By the look on his face I could tell he was furious.

"What is the meaning of this gathering, Mordechai?" he screamed. "Do you think your prayers will help you now? Well they won't! Your G-d has deserted you and your people. And these children, these sweet, innocent children will be the first to die! Guards, seal off this plaza and let not one of these children leave."

A great cry rose up from the plaza as the children's mothers who had been standing off to the side rushed to bring their children food and water. None of the children would eat or drink. I heard one boy say to his mother, 'I will continue to fast and stay here with our teacher Mordechai'. Haman stormed off and then the most amazing thing happened. A procession of several thousand Cohanim – Jewish Priests entered the plaza, each one carrying a Torah scroll and a shofar. They surrounded the children and in unison shouted out this prayer: "Oh G-d of Israel, if your chosen people perish, who will study Your Torah? Who will praise Your holy name? Answer us Oh G-d, answer us!" Then each on raised his shofar to his lips and blew. The sound of the shofars combined with the clamor of the children saying Psalms was an awesome thing to behold. I felt myself transported to a holy, spiritual realm and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that G-d would save His people.

Uri and I stayed on another couple of days with Mordechai. We joined in the prayer rallies and saw how this great, wise man inspired the people. Then, one day when we were sitting with Mordechai at the gate of the city, Haman walked by with a big smile on his face. But when he saw Mordechai his smile turned to a grimace. As usual Mordechai did not bow to Haman and that seemed to enrage him even more. But he said nothing and quickly walked away. On the day we were to leave and travel back to the present the most amazing thing happened. We were in the central synagogue after an all night gathering to say Psalms and beseech G-d for salvation. The door opened and we were surprised to see none other than Haman standing there. He came alone without his entourage and looked really embarrassed. He meekly approached Mordechai.

"I have come to inform you that King Achashverosh wishes to honor you," he said with his eyes looking down at the ground. "I am to carry out his orders."

"And how does those the King wish to honor me?" asked Mordechai.

"You will wear the King's garments, wear his crown, and ride the King's horse through the city. I will lead you and announce that the King wishes to honor you."

Uri and I looked at each other. We couldn't believe it. Was this the same Haman who only yesterday looked like he wanted to strangle Mordechai on the spot? It certainly was and the only explanation we could come up with was that G-d had answered our prayers and this was the beginning of Haman's downfall.

Mordechai smiled and said, "I have not bathed for the past three days and I need a haircut. It would not be proper for me to ride upon the King's horse looking like this."

Haman's jaw dropped but he knew he had no choice. He escorted Mordechai to the public baths next door and about thirty minutes later he came out dressed in the most beautiful apparel I had ever seen. The cloth was purple and blue adorned with precious stones. And on his head he wore the King's golden crown. He looked awesome. Haman led him down the street and Uri and I followed. They stopped in front of the most magnificent horse I had ever seen. It was a pure white stallion, tall and strong, his bridle decorated with gold and silver studs and beautiful colored feathers tied between his ears. Mordechai instructed Haman to kneel on the ground and then the sage stepped on his back and mounted the horse. Haman's face showed his humiliation but he was resigned to his fate. He led Mordechai to the main street and we happily followed. Soon crowds lined the avenue and we heard Haman shout in a loud voice, "Thus shall be done to the man whom the King desires to honor!"

The people clapped their hands and shouted, "Hail, Mordechai!" I looked around at the people standing on their balconies watching the spectacle. One in particular high up on the top floor caught my eye. She was a teenage girl and was holding a large bucket in her hand. When Haman and Mordechai passed beneath her she poured the bucket of filthy water on Haman's head, drenching him from head to toe. Uri and I laughed so hard our sides hurt. Haman looked up at the girl and she screamed in anguish. And the next minute we saw her jump off the balcony landing on the street with a bang. We knew she was dead. Someone said it was Haman's daughter.

After the procession, Uri told me we must return to Jerusalem. We said goodbye to Mordechai and thanked him for his hospitality and inspiration. He looked at each of us, shook our hands then turned to me.

"Shmuel, every man can be a leader and inspire others. Just look around you and see what needs to be done. If no one is doing it, then know that Divine Providence has given you the job. Don't be afraid. The most important thing is to constantly keep your awareness of G-d. Take this message back with you to the Land of Israel and be successful."

I nodded and smiled at the great sage. Uri and I then followed the main street back to the gate of the city. When we were outside, Uri put his hand on my shoulder and again we took flight. We passed over the two rivers and massive desert and soon we could see the Dead Sea. Some time later we landed in the same deserted park where we started from. It was the same day we had left. I thanked Uri and then something really weird struck me.

"Hey Uri," I said. "I know the story of Purim backwards and forwards. I know that the Jews were saved and that Haman was hung. But when soon after we arrived there I forgot it all and everything that happened was so real. I really felt fear about the decree of annihilation upon the Jews and the prayers and psalms we said really came from my heart. Haman's anger was real and I felt overjoyed at the reversal of fate. I was totally there with it. Why did I forget what I already knew?"

"This is another important teaching for you," Uri said. "When we celebrate the Jewish Holidays, we are not just remembering them, we are reliving them. We must strive to be present in the story of that holiday as if it is happening right now because on a spiritual level, it really is. And this teaching is not just for the holidays, it is for every day. Be present in what is happening right now. The past is gone and the future has not yet arrived. There is only right now."

Uri looked me in the eye just as Mordechai had done. I looked back and nodded. Then we parted ways. I started to walk back home when I heard Uri call me. I turned around.

"Hey Shmuel," he said. "Do you have something to write about Purim now?"

"Are you kidding?" I said. "I've got a fantastic story to tell. I just hope somebody will publish it."

"I'm sure somebody will," he said. "Why not try the Jewish Magazine at www.jewishmag.com? It is a great online magazine. It's a really cool site and very open minded."

"Thanks for the advice, Uri. I'll email them today."


from the March 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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