Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Megillah, Governor Cuomo, and Us

I hope the reader will forgive me for going back to Purim for a moment. I know we’re about to enter the month of Nissan, but Chazal connect the redemptions of Purim and Pesach, and something that just happened should give us all chizuk and something to consider.

We read in the Megillah (6:13) that after Haman had haughtily related to his family the apparent glory of his ascent in Achashveirosh’s cabinet, suddenly everything began to fall apart. Haman doesn’t get it, but his evil wife does. Zeresh and the former “friends,” now called “wise men,” warn him: “If Mordechai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him, but will undoubtedly fall before him.”

We are the nation that teaches and has been taught, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.” I don’t even know if Andrew Cuomo should be characterized as our enemy any more than any other political figure. Nor do I know at the moment if he is guilty of any of the accusations against him. What I do know with certainty is that it is uncanny how he has suddenly started to tumble down so rapidly that it must be dizzying and confusing for one who was so high so recently. Furthermore, as the posuk says eloquently, those who were his best friends just yesterday (read: Democrats and Progressives) are now “his wise men” but won’t touch him with a ten-foot political poll. If he is wondering, “I was just on top of the world; what happened?” I, for one, am not so shocked.

It was just before last summer when all of us with children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews were also plunged to the ground. We were told by the governor of New York that camps would not open due to Covid-19. Now, that might have been a rational and appropriate decision if the governor hadn’t just moments before promised numerous rabbonim and askonim on a conference call that all was well. I was not on that call, but a few hours later, I was on another one during which the words “humiliated, lied, disrespect, contempt, disdain and scorn” were repeatedly quoted by people I do respect who were in a state of shock.

Politicians and people in power are entitled to make decisions and to disagree with those who lobby them. However, they are not entitled to make a laughingstock out of them or to treat them arrogantly as if they don’t really matter.

I remember being angry and humiliated myself, and I wasn’t even subjected directly to the governor’s sarcastic and indecent mockery of the people he was supposedly meeting with in good faith. Indeed, the chutzpah was that Mr. Cuomo later reported to the media that “the rabbis were on board with the decision.” I was given to understand by one of our community shtadlanim that as it turned out, they were on a one-way mike, wherein they were rendered mute, relegated to the position of the Jews in the Middle Ages, only this time by a wolf in sheep’s clothing who claimed our friendship and best interests at heart.

As I have often confessed in these pages, neither my father nor I claim prophesy. Yet, the Purim message to our sworn enemy would seem to have come to pass once again. Even his “friends” in the media became chachomim, with his own Zereshes leading the charge. I cannot remember a more dramatic case of “began to fall…will undoubtedly fall” in recent history, especially after an egregious example of affront to representatives of Torah Judaism. When Hashem wants to punish us, G-d forbid, He does so with the love of an admonishing father. But when a mere mortal undertakes to humiliate Hashem’s nation, our Heavenly Father does not take it kindly.

It is noteworthy that Rashi’s comment on the above passage from the Megillah reminds us that “this nation is likened to both the stars and the dust of the earth. When we fall, we fall to the ground, but when we rise, we rise to the heavens and the stars.”

Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz (Tiv Hamoadim, Purim, page 226) quotes from his father that Haman’s advisors were suggesting to him that in light of his impending downfall and Mordechai’s rise, he should become more humble and submissive to Mordechai and Klal Yisroel. Haman, in his arrogance, “did not understand the hint and remained imperious to the bitter end. Sound familiar?

Amazingly, Chazal (Yalkut Shimoni, Esther, 1057) reveal that Haman had 365 advisors, in addition to Zeresh, who was smarter than them all, yet none of them could save Haman from his own worst enemy, himself. The Bnei Yissoschor (Maamorei Nissan, page 146) suggests that this incident will replay itself at the End of Days in our ongoing war with Amaleik.

The Berach Moshe of Sighet-Satmar (Yomim Noraim, pages 143-44) adds to our understanding of Rashi that Haman’s advisors warned him that he was mistaken if he thought that he had Klal Yisroel under his absolute control. They realized, although he did not, that even when we have fallen to the ground, we climb back up so high that he can’t touch us. Furthermore, the leader of the generation lifts everyone with him, to the point that our enemies cannot touch any of us either. I know for a fact that the community leaders who were on the call with the governor were acting in behalf of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, so the governor’s contemptuousness was directed at our heart and soul.

However, after all this is said and done, there is another perhaps even more important lesson for us in this complex parsha. Rav Henoch Lebowitz, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim (Chiddushei Haleiv, Nitzavim, page 181-82) notes that Klal Yisroel lives through two periods throughout history. One is when we are receiving the curses in the Tochacha and one is when we do teshuvah, pray, and Hashem rescues us. It would seem that when Hashem is answering our tefillos and things are going well, we can rest a bit and tone down our davening. But Mordechai’s actions teach us otherwise. Even after Haman has been forced to lead Mordechai on the king’s horse and Haman “has begun to fall” and will continue to do so, Mordechai returns to his sackcloth and fasting. Rav Henoch concludes that “the tefillos that a person utters at the time of redemption must be as powerful as those he davened when he was in dire distress. The reason is that we dare not become complacent and lulled into a false sense of security.

As we approach Parshas Hachodesh and the month of Nissan, we would do well to heed the timeless words of the Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo. He teaches us that the great and famous miracles are here to remind us of the seemingly tiny ones that happen all the time. When Hashem causes someone to fall precipitously, it is a lesson to us all. Hashem is in control, as has been demonstrated dramatically for over a year.  Indeed, we don’t enjoy anyone’s downfall or suffering, but the lesson to be learned is surely as miraculous as any we have witnessed in recent time.

Just as Parshas Chukas taught us about emunas chachomim (see the Alter of Kelm in Chochmah Umussar 1:21) and Parshas Hachodesh teaches us about the relationship between small and great miracles, Purim taught us that no one should ever take past successes for granted.

When the governor declared early in the pandemic that it was he and his scientists who had flattened the curve and not G-d, he was already in trouble with the Creator of the universe. We, on the other hand, are maaminim bnei maaminim. We have absorbed emunah into our bones from the monn in the midbar and from millennia of matzah, but we should recognize when Hashem demonstrates His presence to us in such manifest and direct ways.

May we go from Purim to Pesach with the sure knowledge that Hashem is fully in charge as always and even occasionally letting us in a bit on His mysterious ways.



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