Wednesday, May 29, 2024

An Upside-Down World

It’s not merely a story. It’s not merely a tale of suspense where there is a happy ending. No, the Megillah is a lot more than that.

One Purim night at the Slabodka Yeshiva, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky asked the talmidim, “What is the meaning of the posuk, ‘And all of his (Mordechai’s) mighty and powerful acts are recorded in the book of chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia’ (Esther 10:2)? Why is there a reference to these records? Most probably, not many people follow the directive of the posuk to look up these annals of Media and Persia. Why even mention it?”

Rav Abramsky explained that this posuk is coming to impress upon us the true nature of the Megillah, for one might read it merely as a fascinating narrative with exploits and drama, a series of isolated incidents that eventually fit together like pieces in a puzzle to form one big beautiful picture. To guide us away from this misunderstanding, the posuk informs us otherwise. For stories, for simple facts, to merely learn about conquests and how Mordechai HaYehudi was elevated by the king to a powerful position, you can research the records of the king of Media and Persia. But our Megillah is much more than that. It was said with ruach hakodesh. Every single word is Torah that we must delve into, analyze and learn from. Not one letter is extra. This is so different from the superficial secular account of the story.

The main purpose of the Megillah is to show us that Hakadosh Boruch Hu is the Master of all events, from the beginning until the very end. Even what seems to be an insignificant detail in the story is most essential. The ruach hakodesh in the Megillah is meant to show us how these happenings appeared to Hashem. Were we to read the newspapers of that era describing this saga, we would at best see a superficial account of what transpired. Chances are that the opinion columns, with their subjective bias, would dampen the impact of the true lessons of this story. Hence, we must turn to the Megillah only and the interpretation of Chazal to maximize our ability to absorb the true lessons of Purim.

Rav Yosef, the son of Rav Yehoshua, fell ill, and his neshamah temporarily ascended to heaven. When he recovered, his father asked him, ‘What did you see up there?’ He answered, ‘I saw an upside-down world. Those who are considered important in this world are at the bottom in the upper world. And those who are unimportant down here are most distinguished up there.’ His father answered, ‘You saw a clear world’ (Bava Basra 10b).”

In this world, man’s vision is clouded by his own whims, and he loses a clear view of what’s important in life and how one must navigate its challenges. The scene from above is much different. It takes a unique individual, one who is not at all influenced by his surroundings or by public opinion, to live his life with a total heavenly perspective. One such person was the hero of the Purim story, Mordechai HaYehudi.

Ish Yehudi hayah b’Shushan Habirah. There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital, whose name was Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shimi, son of Kish, a Benjamite who had been exiled away from Yerushalayim with the exiles who had been exiled away with Yechania, king of Yehudah. And he raised Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The girl was finely featured and beautiful, and when her father and mother died, Mordechai adopted her as his own daughter. So, it came to pass, when the king’s bidding and decree were published, and when many young girls were being brought together to Shushan the capital, under the charge of Hegai, that Esther was taken into the palace… (Esther 2:5-8).”

The Malbim explains that in these pesukim, we see Mordechai’s tremendous mesirus nefesh to maintain Esther’s purity, risking his life and not paying any attention to the consequences that he could face. Firstly, it was difficult for him to hide together with Esther, for he was “Ish Yehudi hayah b’Shushan Habirah,” a well-known Jewish man in Shushan Habirah. For this very same reason, he could not claim that he did not hear the king’s proclamation, for he lived in the capital, where the news most certainly reached him. Usually, one who is a refugee from a different country is much more careful about adhering to the law of the land, for he can easily be deported or his punishment could be more severe. The posuk tells us that despite the fact that Mordechai was in exile from Yerushalayim, he totally ignored the King’s request.

He could not claim that Esther was not his responsibility, because the posuk says that he raised her as his own child and he was her guardian. Perhaps he had a way out by saying that most certainly the king wanted only the most beautiful women. This, too, wasn’t an excuse, as the posuk tells us that she was indeed beautiful. Not only did Mordechai ignore the king’s edict, but even after the girls were being brought together to Shushan, he did not send Esther willingly. “Vatilokach Esther.” She was taken by force to the king’s palace. Mordechai was not at all moved by outside pressure or by any peril that faced him. He was interested in only one thing: fulfilling the ratzon Hashem without any compromise.

One could only imagine what the newspapers of that time had to say about Mordechai. The Shushan Times undoubtedly castigated Mordechai as an ungrateful immigrant not concerned about the king’s welfare, and that by being so obstinate, he was committing a crime. The Persian Post most certainly portrayed Mordechai as an extremist, who was causing the citizens of Shushan to have a negative opinion of Jews in general, and that he had no one to blame for this anti-Semitism but himself. They surely quoted halachic sources that Mordechai was not required to prevent Esther from being taken forcibly by Achashveirosh (See Tosafos, Kesubos 3b), and that his zealotry had no basis in Jewish law. But Mordechai paid no heed to the press. He acted with complete bitachon that if he was moser nefesh for Hashem, no harm would befall him or Klal Yisroel.

But what happened after all of these efforts to do the right thing? It seemed that in Shomayim, his attempts to please Hashem were rejected, for in the end, Esther was taken to the King. Mordechai had every right to be depressed and to be resigned to the fact that he was wrong in the way he acted. However, Mordechai’s reaction was the exact opposite of what might have been expected. Not only wasn’t he discouraged, but he gained chizuk from this incident. After all of his efforts were fruitless, he said, “Is it possible that this righteous woman must marry this uncircumcised rasha? Perhaps this is meant to save Klal Yisroel in the future” (Yalkut Shimoni, Beshalach 266).

This, in and of itself, is a great lesson for all of us. Sometimes we try hard, putting all of our efforts into an endeavor l’sheim Shomayim, and we are unsuccessful. It seems as if our efforts are in vain. But in Shomayim, there is a record of every single one of our actions. And even if at the time it seems that our kochos went to waste, they are put in storage and used at a different time in a way that we did not expect. Mordechai was moser nefesh to prevent Esther from going to the king. In the end, it was in the merit of his mesirus nefesh that Esther was able to save Klal Yisroel. Nothing goes unnoticed in Shomayim. “Send your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it” (Kohelles 11:1).

Most certainly, Mordechai was criticized by his brethren for announcing that they mustn’t attend the feast of Achashveirosh. The man in the street wondered what could possibly be wrong in participating. The food is glatt kosher and we must act like good citizens. The Jewish Forward at the time, happy at an opportunity to find fault with chareidi Jewry, surely published a lengthy editorial denouncing Mordechai as being old-fashioned in trying to prevent Jews from becoming a part of the Shushan citizenry. “We are no longer a nation apart in Eretz Yisroel,” they probably said. “It’s time to face reality that today we are a people like all others and we must mingle with them.”

It was the same with Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to Haman. Most certainly, Yidden asked him why he was putting himself and his people in danger. Surely, when Haman was allowed to pass a death sentence upon all of the Jews everywhere, it was all blamed on Mordechai. He was most probably treated as a pariah for bringing calamity upon his people. But what happened in the end?

Venahafoch hu. It was just the opposite of what was expected. It was Mordechai’s mesirus nefesh and withholding Esther from the king that brought a yeshuah. The people who thought that they would help the cause of Jews in golus by attending the king’s feast saw how wrong they were. They saw that precisely what they thought was beneficial for the Jewish citizenry was the reason for the decree for them to be killed. They saw that it was Mordechai’s zealousness to heed the word of Hashem without compromise that brought them a great yeshuah. Yes, it’s an upside-down world. What the common person thought was good for our people turned out to be detrimental. And Mordechai’s outlook on life was the perspective of heaven, quite the opposite of the thinking of the common folk. It was this vision that brought about a great victory over our enemies, a new kabbolas haTorah, and the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.

 Let us contemplate for a moment the gadlus of Mordechai. To totally ignore the outside world, the thinking of the common man, and the dangers he faced. To remain steadfast in his convictions and in his service of Hashem. It took superhuman strength not to budge in the slightest and to maintain his position. In the end, he was rewarded when everyone saw clearly that he was right all along, bringing salvation to his people and being elevated to the highest position in the land. It was all the result of thinking according to the ways of heaven.

Purim brought a new kabbolas haTorah. What could they possibly improve on over the kabbolah at Har Sinai, which featured many open miracles and Hashem openly speaking to them? The Chofetz Chaim explains that during Maamad Har Sinai, the Yidden inwardly were worried. With the acceptance of the Torah, we were isolating ourselves from the rest of the world. We cannot eat what they eat, we cannot intermarry with them, and we must remain a nation apart. How will we survive alone on this planet, and won’t it arouse the hatred of other nations for this separation? These doubts remained with them for a long time.

When the holy Kotzker was a young child, he came home from cheder and his father asked him what he learned that day. He answered, “We learned the posuk of ‘Vayichan shom Yisroel neged hahar’ (Shemos 19:2). My rebbi translated it to mean that the Yidden were encamped facing the mountain, but I teitch it to mean that they were encamped with their backs to the world.”

This Purim, let us make our kabbolas haTorah a most meaningful one. Let us remember that we are the Am Segulah. That the laws of nature do not apply to us, as we are a heavenly people. That to merit salvation from Above, we must turn our hopes upwards. We must affirm to ourselves that all political conditions in our country and around the world will have no effect on us whatsoever as long as we are attached to Hashem. And that we must be single-minded in our goal to be mekadeish Sheim Shomayim. Ah freilichen Purim!





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