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What Are We Supposed to Do?

Rabbi Moshe Grylak

A tried-and-true remedy — and it shook the heavens

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


ow much action  did Mordechai and Esther actually take? Look closely, and you’ll see how Someone Else was spinning the wheels all along. Shouldn’t that idea help us release our grip as we face today’s challenges?

The gaon Rav Mordechai Shmuel Kroll ztz”l, the first rav of Kfar Chassidim, has given me a new appreciation of the Purim miracle as related to our times as well. In his sefer Masa Damesek, Rav Kroll recalls how each year in his Purim shmuess, Rav Yosef Yoizel Horwitz, the Alter of Novardok, would deliver this message to his talmidim:

“Imagine if a decree of extermination against the Jews were to be issued today, in modern Russia [Rav Yoizel, of course, was referring to the Czarist Russia of a century and a half ago], just like the decree instigated by Haman in the days of Achashveirosh. Now let’s suppose that like Achashveirosh, our ruler, Czar Nikolai, had a Jewish Czarina like Esther HaMalkah. What would transpire? Jewish leaders would start looking for ways to get an audience with the Czarina and plead with her to do everything in her power to change the terrible decree. They would think up ways of bribing highly placed government officials to use their influence with the cruel Czar, and go through every available diplomatic or political channel to have the gezeirah canceled. Of course, they would also call on all the Yidden to come together in prayer and fasting. But the whole time their eyes would be turned toward the Czarina, in the hope that a yeshuah would be brought about through her.”

Here, Rav Yoizel posed a question: “Now, did Mordechai take this course of action when he learned of Haman’s evil plan? Let’s look into the Megillah and see what he actually did:

“ ‘And Mordechai knew all that had been done and he put on sackcloth and ashes and he went out to the midst of the city and he cried a great and bitter cry.’ He didn’t ask for an audience with the king, he didn’t send representatives to speak with the king’s ministers, and he didn’t say a word about Queen Esther, nor did he trouble her. Nothing of the kind. He cried out and prayed to the Creator of the World, the G-d of Israel. Esther knew nothing of the evil decree until she heard alarming reports about what Mordechai was doing and sent a messenger to inquire of him what it meant.

“Only when Esther demanded to know what was going on did Mordechai decide that she was meant to play a role in this, and only then did he ask her to go to the king and plead for her people. When she expressed reluctance to appear before the king uninvited, Mordechai didn’t insist; he only sent back a message that it was not for the nation’s sake that he was asking this of her (‘For relief and salvation will come to the Jews from somewhere else’), but for her own good (‘but you and your father’s house will perish’).”

Rav Kroll explains in the name of the Alter of Novardok: Why, in fact, did Mordechai not go through the normal channels, asking to meet with the ministers who had the king’s ear, and so on?

The answer is simple: A man does not lift a finger in the world below unless it is decreed in the upper world (Chullin 7b). Chazal are telling us that even such a simple act as lifting a finger is governed by Hashgachah pratis, and all the more so, an act of gross injustice against an entire nation, especially the Jewish Nation. This isn’t just a fluke of nature taking its course. But on the other hand, if the decree is solely in Hashem’s Hand, what place is there for pleading before a cruel and wicked king? Is he the one who decides our fate? He is nothing but the ax in the woodcutter’s hand, the rod of wrath of the King of all kings.

With this clear vision, Mordechai went straight to the Source. He gathered together the young, innocent Talmud Torah boys and learned with them, wearing his sackcloth and ashes, and fasting. It was a tried and true remedy — and it shook the heavens.

This is a lesson about our entire approach to life. Here in Israel, with Knesset elections fast approaching, perhaps we are getting too caught up in following the poll takers’ predictions and speculating about the chances of this or that coalition taking the reins of government and how that will impact the Torah world, rather than realizing that this whole situation is a call from Above, summoning us to do some serious introspection and teshuvah as individuals and as a community. If we can rise to that challenge, then the entire political apparatus will bow before us, and bring the best possible results.

If we look closely, we’ll see that the Purim miracle arose from a similar dynamic. The triggers of salvation were Mordechai’s tefillos and Torah learning, along with Am Yisrael’s teshuvah and the three days of fasting at Esther’s behest before her fateful meeting with the king. All Esther did in terms of hishtadlus was to invite the king and Haman to a little tea party. From that point on, all the events unfolded of their own accord, from a higher sphere — that is, from Divine Hashgachah. Inviting the king and Haman to come and drink with her was just a way of pushing the start button for a release of Divine energy, bringing forth a chain of events over which Esther herself had no control.

Achashveirosh’s jealousy was aroused by the very fact that Haman was invited along with him to Esther’s exclusive gathering. In a royal court fraught with intrigue, he couldn’t help but suspect that Esther might be hatching some insidious plot with his chief minister Haman, and Haman’s swaggering raised the king’s jealousy and fear to a peak the night before Esther’s second gathering. Chazal discerned a deeper meaning in the pasuk, “That night the king’s sleep eluded him” — the King of the Universe was wide awake that night, as it were, carefully watching over His people and putting down the playing pieces for their redemption.

We all know how the plot unfolds from that point on, with no further effort on Esther’s part. The king, probably hoping to be lulled to sleep, orders a servant to read the royal chronicles to him, and the records reveal that Mordechai the Jew was never rewarded for having saved the king from an assassination attempt.

Meanwhile, euphoria pervades Haman’s house as his pride skyrockets and he plans to eliminate Mordechai. But the next day, there is a sudden turnabout when he pays a visit to the king at dawn. His pride meets with the king’s jealousy, and instead of receiving license to kill Mordechai, Haman is ordered to honor him in the city streets at the cost of his own dignity — so that before Esther’s second party, everything was already in place for Haman’s downfall.

Achashveirosh’s implicit trust in his senior adviser was already broken. And when Esther pointed a dramatic finger at Haman as the enemy who had plotted genocide against her people, the die was cast. The final touch, pushing Achashveirosh into a blind fury, was provided when Haman threw himself onto Esther’s couch to plead for mercy. Achashveirosh, just returning from an attempt to cool his temper in the garden, views the scene through a screen of jealousy, with predictable results. And at that crucial moment, Charvona pipes up to inform the king that Haman has already built a handy gallows, intended for Mordechai. Haman’s fate is sealed.

Thinking about this, it’s clear that Esther actually didn’t do a thing, except to make herself a vessel for salvation. Mordechai was right not to seek help from any human being, not even his niece, the queen of Persia and Medea. Because salvation didn’t depend on her, and she had no power to change anything of her own accord.

This is the underlying lesson to be learned from the Megillah. We do our hishtadlus because we must, but it has no influence on the results. Those depend only on the purity of our teshuvah and the sincerity of our prayers. Of course, these ideas aren’t really anything new. But if we know it already, then why do we persist in relying on our own efforts and our own plans? Why do we worry so much about who will be elected?

I was told about a great talmid chacham who said to his son, “Whenever danger loomed over the frum community of Eretz Yisrael, I would focus in particular on the brachos of ‘Re’eih na v’anyeinu’ and ‘Hashivah shofteinu kevarishonah.’ But one day I suddenly realized I was getting it wrong — instead I should focus on ‘Selach lanu Avinu ki chatanu.’ ”

May the true Purim spirit continue to penetrate long after the Megillah is rolled up and put away.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 753)

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