Thursday, Apr 11, 2024

MORDECHAI THE MAN OF PRAYER AND US

 

Megillas Esther is about many things. One of the most important at this time in our history is the lesson of tefillah. How should we daven in an eis tzarah – a time of danger – for Klal Yisroel?

The posuk (4:1-3) tells us that when Mordechai heard the news about the evil decree against Klal Yisroel, he tore his clothing, put on sackcloth and ashes, went out into the midst of the city, and cried loudly and bitterly. Amongst the rest of the Jews, “there was great mourning, fasting, weeping and wailing, while almost everyone also wore sackcloth and ashes.” Eventually, as we all know, Hashem answered our prayers successfully and one of the greatest miracles in Klal Yisroel’s history happened, generating an annual Yom Tov. What exactly worked for us? Was it our tefilos, our teshuvah, some combination of these or something else entirely that saved us?

Let us look back for a moment at the first time we meet Mordechai in the Megillah. The posuk (2:5) has already informed us that “there was a Jewish man named Mordechai, the son of Yair, the son of Shimi, the son of Kish, of shevet Binyomin. Chazal (Megillah 12b) interpret each of these genealogical names as applying to Mordechai himself. He is called Mordechai based upon his being like a certain spice, Yair because he “illuminated the eyes of Klal Yisroel with his prayers,” Shimi because Hashem heard his prayers, and Kish because he pounded on the gates of mercy, which opened for him.” All of these appellations would seem to indicate that Mordechai’s essence was his power of tefillah. Well, what about the great revival of repentance in Klal Yisroel? What about the fact that we reaccepted the Torah, this time both Torah Shebiksav and Torah Baal Peh? What about the tremendous achdus in Klal Yisroel? Why does the power of tefillah loom so large in the Purim saga?

First of all, let us take note that our entire mode of tefillah has its roots in Purim. The Maharsha (Chiddushei Aggados, Yoma 69b) reveals that the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah who established formal texts and methods of prayer did so specifically to help us to gain the great redemption and salvation of Purim. This fact has numerous halachic ramifications, such as the rule barring us from davening for open miracles, only hidden ones such as Purim (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, end of 187 in Shaarei Teshuvah).

One proof to this approach may be found in the words of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (Shemos 14:15). Klal Yisroel is facing a potential tragedy of colossal proportions from the Egyptians who have surrounded us in what seemed a fatal way, G-d forbid. Yet Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu, “Why are you crying to me?” This seems to be surprising, since the response of Klal Yisroel to every problem is to pray. The answer is that when the only solution seems to be an open miracle, one may not daven and must simply perform acts of mesirus nefesh, such as Hashem’s directive of “veyisau,” meaning to “journey forth.” Indeed, Nachshon ben Aminodov seizes the moment and jumps into the churning sea. However, if what is required is a neis nistar, a miracle shrouded in the cloak of the natural, one may, and even must, daven for it to happen. Thus, we see that Purim is all wrapped up in the cloak of how to pray and what is appropriate for the prayer of that particular event.

But there is a much deeper message here as well. Until Purim, Klal Yisroel experienced many open miracles. Chazal (Chulin 139b) teach that Esther is hinted at in the Chumash in the words “ve’anochi hastir astir ponai” (Devorim 31:18) – the hidden face of Hashem. Our tefillos have now transformed into a plea for help, but without the Creator openly overruling the laws of nature. Of course, it will always be Him, but it will seem as if the doctor, military machine or other force accomplished what was in reality the ultimate act of G-d. Our rabbeim, the Chazon Ish, the Steipler and, most recently, Rav Chaim Kanievsky all ruled that today we can and should pray for a refuah sheleimah even for the most direly sick of patients, because in the end, many will simply shrug that science or medicine has triumphed, but we have not requested an open miracle.

The Brisker Rov has been quoted as saying that all this is hinted at in the traditional Purim poem of Shoshanas Yaakov. There we sing that “You have been their eternal salvation and their hope throughout generations. To make known that all who hope in You will not be shamed, nor ever humiliated, those who take refuge in You.” He explained that the mode of tefillah that we learned from Mordechai and the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah has been granted to us for all future generations. This explains also Chazal’s statement (Megillah 14a) that we do not recite Hallel on Purim. They explain that the Megillah itself is a substitute for Hallel. Based upon this equation, the Me’iri concludes that if someone or an entire congregation does not have a Megillah, they should recite Hallel. However, since most poskim disagree, my rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner (Pachad Yitzchok, Purim 33) concludes that they hold that the Megillah is a hidden Hallel in commemoration of a hidden miracle. Even if one has no Megillah, Hallel is an inappropriate response to the type of miracle being celebrated.

One simple result of all this is that on Purim there is no limit to what we are permitted to request from Hashem. Rav Chaim Palagi (Mo’ed Lechol Chai) recommends to all that the women should light two candles before the Purim seudah, one in honor of Mordechai and one in honor of Esther, so that all the tefillos of Purim should be fulfilled. Rav Chaim Kanievsky was asked if one can ask for many things in one prayer. His answer was that a child can ask anything of a parent because he is a father and parents wish to grant their children’s wishes. This is surely true of Purim, when we know that Mordechai and Esther are davening for us at the Throne of Glory.

This takes on an extra dimension this year when Taanis Esther is commemorated early on Thursday (see Megillah 5b). Now we know that a fast day is generally pushed forward rather than backward. Why is Taanis Esther different? One answer is that the fast of Esther is actually not a sad day, but according to the Mishnah Berurah (686:2) “a day to remember that Hashem sees and remembers every Jew who has troubles, when he fasts and returns to Hashem as they did in those days.” This change from the usual rules of fast days indicates that Taanis Esther, in the Purim mode, teaches us that Hashem is with us and will help us even when there are no open miracles or obvious supernatural events. Rav Acha’i Gaon (She’iltos 67) even calls this fast day a “simcha.” We can extrapolate from this Taanis Esther to our natural situation today, when our tefillos may result in miracles that will be interpreted by some as politics, negotiations or international pressures. We, however, will know the truth that the hidden power of Purim prevailed as it does in every generation.

Finally, the halacha on Purim is that “whoever extends a hand must be given.” The seforim hakedoshim state that this refers also to our own tefillos, which will always be answered. We can now understand that this is what Mordechai accomplished by opening the gates of heaven and allowing all the prayers to enter. Let us use this Purim to obtain release for those who need freedom, refuos for those who need healing and yeshuos for all of Klal Yisroel. Clearly, the answer to our question is that all the good things done by Klal Yisroel then and now contribute to a yeshuah. However, it is our special tefillos on Purim that can make this happen, while the gates that Mordechai broke through are still wide open and waiting for heartfelt tefillos.

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