As I write, it is the coldest day I can remember in my entire life. Since when does the New York temperature drop to zero, with gale-force winds? Is anything normal these days?
Last Friday night we lost electric power. Thankfully, we have an emergency generator, which got us through the Sabbath and basically enabled us to keep warm. With hot cholent (delicious traditional Sabbath stew) “borrowed” from a neighbor, we made it through.
The wind is howling and the temperature is dangerously low. A person could die outdoors tonight. As King David says, “He hurls His ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold?” (Psalms 147:17) We live behind a fragile layer of protection. When the power fails, we have the generator, but what if the generator fails? What if the electrical grid breaks down, either through accident or sabotage? What if ….?
And so we come to the holiday of Purim.
Do we have any concept of the magnitude of this story? Do we have any clue how big the events are about which we read in the Scroll of Esther? Well, G-d is helping us to understand, because, around us in the world today, epic events are also transpiring. In Shushan, suddenly all our protection was removed.
There is a massive plan to history, which our prophets foretell and our sages explain. We can affect that plan positively, but only by trying to understand what the Master of the Universe wants of us. We can come out on the “good side” if we hang onto Him and His Torah with a steel grip.
“How great are Your deeds, G-d. Exceedingly profound are Your thoughts. A boor cannot know, nor can a fool understand this. When the wicked bloom like grass and all the doers of iniquity blossom, it is to destroy them until eternity.” (Psalms 92)
We believe we know what is happening in the world, but “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways… saith the L-rd. For just as the rain and snow descend from heaven and will not return there … so shall be My word that emanates from My mouth, it will not return to Me unfulfilled unless it accomplish what I desired and brought success where I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:8-11)
The great rabbis have a way of putting these words into very powerful perspective. Recently, I saw the account of a talk delivered by Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky about the insignificance of man and the danger of crediting oneself for one’s accomplishments. “Rav Galinsky, who was very short, remarked, ‘Who would ever have thought that I would be taller than the Twin Towers!’” (Yated Ne’eman)
We believe that we are living in an advanced civilization. It is easy to become infatuated with the achievements of Esau’s culture. But the Twin Towers fell in a few minutes, and today, the same people who attacked the World Trade Center are attacking targets all over the world. (In today’s news: “Terror in Denmark” and the murder of Egyptian Copts in Libya.)
The Jews in Shushan thought that they were living the “good life.” Suddenly, “King Achashveirosh promoted Haman ben Hamadasa ha’Agagi and elevated him! (Esther 3:1) The Talmud tells us that, in the days before Messiah, “the Holy One will appoint a king over us whose decrees will be as harsh as those of Haman.” (Sanhedrin 97b) – unless we return to Him!
Should we not be afraid? We have a choice: tremble before man – which is forbidden– or tremble before the King of Kings!
There is a fascinating correlation between this week’s Torah portion and the Scroll of Esther. G-d says, “You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aharon …” (Exodus 28:2) And the Scroll of Esther tells us, “Mordechai left the king’s presence clad in royal apparel of turquoise and white with a large gold crown and a robe of fine linen and purple…. (8:15)
Do we tremble when we pray? Ideally, “one must pause for an hour before he prays, in order to apply his heart… and pause for an hour after the prayer…. One should approach with … dread and submission.” (Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chayim 93) Granted that is the level of exceptional people, but that is the goal.
Do we dress as if we are standing before the King? If we knew Who was in front of us, would we not want to take upon ourselves the appearance of nobility like Aharon the High Priest or Mordechai? If we lack at least the appearance of nobility, it implies that we do not think we are actually standing before Him. In order to speak in G-d’s Presence, we have to believe we are in G-d’s Presence!
The Talmud says that when we say “G-d is One”, the words should be “al levavecha… on your heart” (Berachos 13a). Do we place the words upon our heart? Do we translate physical actions into spirituality?
A great man recently stated that G-d demonstrated the meaning of the Half Shekel by showing Moses the “fiery shekel” from beneath His throne. Everything on earth, including ice and bitter cold, is a reflection from the spiritual realm. The events of today, like the huge events which occurred long ago in Shushan, are precursors of monumental changes which will bring redemption to this beleaguered planet. Even in this generation, we can try to imitate Aharon and Mordechai. If we don the robes of royalty, then perhaps we will merit to stand before the Throne of Glory.
Like our ancestors in Shushan, may we soon see “the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and the month which had been turned about for them from one of sorrow to gladness and mourning to festival!” (Esther 9:22) When salvation comes, we will all be robed in royal apparel like Aharon and Mordechai!