Then and Now
By Avi Lazerson
The holy words
of the entire Bible are meant for us in each generation. This includes the
teachings in the Talmud. The entire tractate Megillah deals with the all
aspects of Purim.
Haman sets forth to honor
Mordecai, c.1665, Rembrandt
The tractate relates
that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi would begin his Purim discourse by quoting
Deuteronomy 28:63 “And it shall be that just as G-d rejoiced (Hebrew:
Sos) over you, to do you good and multiply you, so G-d will rejoice (Hebrew:
HaSis) over you to destroy and perish you.” He continued, “Does
indeed G-d rejoice when evil doers are destroyed?” He then brought proof
that G-d does not rejoice even with the death of evil doers. He
explained that the second word for rejoicing (Hebrew: HaSis) is not the
same as the first (Hebrew: Sos). The second word, HaSis, is the
causative form, meaning He causes others to rejoice, but He does not
rejoice. Who are those who rejoice at the downfall of the Jews? – It is the
Haman Begging Esther for Mercy. 1655. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine
Arts, Budapest, Hungary
What does this
have to do with Purim? And why do we care that the wicked nations rejoice at
the downfall of the Jews?
In the Purim story,
G-d’s Divine Providence brought about a decree of total destruction
upon the Jews. Achashverous, King of Persia gave the wicked Haman the
power to do to the Jews as he saw fit. Haman decreed that the Jews be killed
and their possessions taken. The reason for this decree was that the Jews had
sinned by participating in a festive meal given by the King. He was
celebrating two things: 1) the consolidation of his empire and 2) the
non-fulfillment of the redemption of the Jews and the rebuilding of the
Temple. According to a known prophecy, the Babylonian exile was to end after
seventy years. Then the Jews would return to the Land of Israel and
rebuild the Temple. Achashverous made a reckoning of when the seventy
years would end and according to his calculation the time of the prophetic
redemption had passed and G-d’s promise would never be fulfilled.
He ordered lavish
meals prepared and invited all of the citizens of his great empire to
participate. The sacred vessels that were looted from the Holy Temple in
Jerusalem were brought out and used in a profane manner. The Jews attended
this party and enjoyed the festivities in spite of seeing the holy vessels
disgraced. In addition they had previously bowed down to an idol that
Nebuchadnezer had set up.
These were terrible
sins but the Jews were not yet ready to repent. In order to bring about
their redemption it was necessary for the Jews to admit their sins and return
to G-d wholeheartedly. Towards this end Providence empowered Haman to decree a
death sentence upon all Jews of the kingdom. The Jews had no political or
military power to change this decree and were forced to seek G-d’s help.
They fasted, prayed with all of their hearts, and returned to Him. This
was what G-d desired and subsequently Haman fell from power. King
Achashverous empowered Mordechai to counter his decree enabling the Jews to
Using our imagination we
can understand how the Jews felt. When Achashverous’s calculation of the end
of the seventy years of exile came and passed, the Jews believed that indeed,
there would be no redemption. They felt abandoned by G-d, resigned themselves
to remaining in exile, and sunk into a communal depression that dulled their
spirits and faith in G-d. This led them to succumb to the temptation to
participate in the King’s festive meal which celebrated the destruction of
the Temple and the reign of Achasverous. G-d in his goodness brought upon them
Haman’s terrible decree in order to return their hearts to him.
In the end, G-d’s
promise was fulfilled. The evil decree was overturned, and the second Temple
was built. Many Jews returned to the Land of Israel and a second commonwealth
was established that lasted over five hundred years.
* * * * *
In our time
we have seen unbelievable, historic events unfold. For two thousand years the
Jews have lived through a terrible exile, somehow surviving the twin dangers
of persecution and assimilation. Just sixty years ago we witnessed one of the
worst slaughters of mankind and of our people in history. A wicked Haman named
Hitler convinced an enlightened nation that the Jews were responsible for
their woes, and six million Jews were murdered! Our enemies were truly
happy at our downfall, yet in the end, they too met their bitter end.
On the heels
of this national holocaust came the realization of a two thousand year- old
dream – the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. These
two unbelievable events came only a few years apart. In addition, we
have seen the miraculous defeat of the united Arab armies in several wars and
the building of a truly modern state that has surpassed all other countries in
are faced with two new dangers: 1) the nuclear threat from Iran and 2) the
Jew-hating government of Hamas being formed in the west bank and Gaza. The
goal of these two groups is to purge the Jews from their land, the land that
G-d in His infinite kindness desires to have rebuilt and resettled by the
children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
If we consider
the wealth and power of our enemies, their oil bought influence and their
fanatic desire to kill “infidels”, the future looks dim.
Today they seem
to have the upper hand and we are justifiably concerned. But we
must realize that like Hitler and Haman that preceded them, they too will be
destroyed. When the wicked nations rejoice over the downfall of the Jews, it
is only in order to bring something good into the world.
This is the Purim message
for our times from Rabbi Yehosua ben Levi. We must not fall into despair over
the gains of our enemies, for the G-d of our forefathers is with us. He
desires to fulfill the promise that He made to bring back the exiles to their
homeland, Israel. He desires that the Third and final Temple be rebuilt in
Jerusalem. He desires that all mankind call upon Him in truth and abandon
their faith in false gods and prophets.
are just waiting for the right Mordacai to appear.
Lazerson is a staff writer for the Jewish Magazine1
more articles by Avi Lazerson