Eliyohu Hanovi and the Great Purim Turnaround

Eliyohu Hanovi occupies a major presence in Megillas Esther and it is important to understand why.

The poskim (Tur and Shulchan Aruch 690:16) rule that one should mention that “Gam Charvonah is zochur latov – Charvonah is also worthy of honorable mention” in the poem known as Shoshanas Yaakov. Chazal (Esther Rabbah 10:9 and Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 50) reveal that Eliyohu Hanovi appeared in the image of Charvonah to help save the day. Rav Yonasan David, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Pachad Yitzchok of Yerushalayim (Kuntrus Mesibos Purim, No. 1), quotes an explanation from his father-in-law, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, as to why Eliyohu carries this unique title. He notes that while in general we add to one who has passed away the appellation zichrono livrocha or zeicher tzaddik livrocha, Eliyohu is different. The Gemara (Pesachim 59b) teaches that we recite the blessing hatov vehameitiv on good news and dayan ha’emes on something bad, r”l. However, Eliyohu Hanovi, who never tasted death or burial, also never required the brocha of dayan ha’emes to be recited over him. Therefore, what must be said after his name is that he is zochur latov, remembered only for that which is totally good. He is therefore the one who will help to usher in the era during which everything will be only good, the time of techiyas hameisim, when the dead shall arise.

Rav David adds that Eliyohu is thus associated with the word gam, meaning “also,” indicating that not only will what is obviously good be called tov, but even what seemed at first to be detrimental will also turn out to be for the best. For this reason, also, Nochum Ish Gam Zu was known by this cognomen because he saw everything immediately as being for the best, even when it seemed to flow from middas hadin, the trait of justice, which can come across negatively. He continues to explain that what Eliyohu in the guise of Charvonah added to final Megillah narrative was not just that Haman be hanged. He added that the salvation of Klal Yisroel would come about in the mode of venahafoch hu, a complete transformation of all the facts. Instead of Klal Yisroel being the focus of murder, it would be Haman and his family. The hanging tree for Mordechai turned into the vehicle for the destruction of Haman. The middah of din also (gam) was turned into our favor. This is the light of Eliyohu Hanovi in the Megillah and, by extension, in much of Jewish history. The Dayan Ha’emes comes to our rescue in the guise of the middas hadin, as well. It is the great gam of Jewish triumph, using both din and rachamim together.

Rav Yonoson David concludes that when Achashveirosh pours out his wrath on Haman, he roars, “Hagam, have you also come to conquer the queen in my own home?” Amaleik is called the “first nation” (Bamidbar 24:20) because it tried to conquer the power of goodness also for use in its evil endeavors. However, Hashem (the true King) admonishes him that only He has the right to turn one middah into another, evil into goodness, whereas the presumptuous Amaleik has no right to misappropriate goodness into evil. For this alone, he will ultimately be destroyed. Even Amaleik’s evil must have its limits and one of them is his attack upon the middah of goodness itself. At this point, Eliyohu enters in the guise of Charvonah and brings about the Purim theme of venahafoch – compete turnover – and turns everything that has happened upon its head, transforming each seeming step toward our destruction, G-d forbid, into the first step of the destruction of evil itself.

Perhaps, in light of what we have recently learned in Daf Yomi in these days leading up to Purim, we may gain an even deeper perspective on this matter. The Gemara (Brachos 54a) teaches that we must make a blessing upon things that are bad that come upon us just as we make a blessing upon the good. The Aruch, an early Rishon, explains that this is because everything Hashem does is for our benefit, even if it is to bring us a kapparah – expiation – for our sins. The Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah even add that we should make the blessing with joy, since we are gaining so much from Hashem’s admonition. The Rambam (Peirush HaMishnah), too, rules that we should recite this brocha with a full heart, as the Gemara (Brachos 60b) teaches later, because whatever Hashem does is for the best. The Mishnah Berurah (222:4) codifies this as a basic halacha, elaborating that this saves us from suffering in the future, when the punishments can be much worse.

We have already recorded in these pages a story with the Vilna Gaon (published in many places, including the introduction to volume 15 of the Tzitz Eliezer) and of his talmidim. The Gaon used to give a regular shiur in Sefer Reishis Chochmah. The Gaon would share mussar thoughts with a select group in his home between Mincha and Maariv. One evening, he revealed to his listeners that the graphic descriptions of purgatory described in Reishis Chochmah were neither exaggerations nor metaphors. The terrifying scenes depicted were definitive and precise. A member of that elite group took the Gaon’s words to heart and apparently had a heart attack. When the Gaon inquired about him and discovered his illness, he davened for him, and the man recovered and returned to the shiur.

“What happened to you?” inquired the Gaon.

Rebbe,” replied the man somewhat sheepishly, “to be honest, had I died, it would have been your fault.”

“What did I do?” the Gaon inquired in shock.

“Your descriptions of Gehinnom were so terrifying, rebbe, that my heart virtually stopped.”

The Gaon looked at his disciple with empathy but responded, “I feel terrible about your plight, but you should know that my words were chosen carefully and accurately. However, I did omit one important factor, which is a consolation for all who suffer in this world. When a person arrives for his Day of Judgment, despite his many merits and credits, the verdict is usually guilty. The soul trembles at the announcement of each sin, transgression, iniquity and failing. Things look bleak and the soul is nearly thrown into a panic. Then something amazing happens. The list of a person’s sufferings on earth is read. For each moment of anguish, a sin is erased and a transgression disappears. Soon, the soul begins to dance for joy over every affliction and distress. At the end, it is only our pain that redeems and rescues us.”

The Bach, in his commentary on the Tur (222), notes that when he rules that one must make a blessing upon the bad along with the good, the Tur was careful to write that he should do so “with a clear mind and a willing soul.” He does not, however, demand that one do so with joy, because “it is impossible for a human being to rejoice with bad tidings that, G-d forbid, come upon him.” He can, however, do so, with full acceptance and trust in Hashem that He had done the right thing. The Chazon Ish (Sefer Emunah Ubitachon) also states that people mistakenly believe that bitachon means that one believes that Hashem will make us happy. He strongly disagrees. Bitachon means that we believe that whatever Hashem does is for the best, whether we understand the reasons or not.

Purim and the intervention of Eliyohu Hanovi offers us a new perspective. It is that we will one day discover to our great joy that even what we must have begrudgingly accepted despite ourselves will be revealed as having been for the best from the very beginning. Eliyohu Hanovi’s presence and direct intervention assures us that even our worst moments – the decrees against us, the tree looming to hang Mordechai, the cynical partnership of Achashveirosh and Haman – were part of the process of din being transformed into our very best friend and ally. Let us iy”H rejoice on Purim knowing that the current anti-Semitism and other challenges in our personal and national lives are not only for our best, but will soon be revealed to have been so from the very beginning. The venahafoch of Purim follows Hashem’s design through the agency of Eliyohu Hanovi, who will soon herald the ultimate geulah bimeheirah beyomeinu.