| Voice in the Crowd |

Dancing and Pleading

On Purim, we are meant to dance as we plead and to sing as we ask

They say a writer has to know his audience. I am fairly confident, writing for adults in the Orthodox world, that there are some things I can take for granted about the majority of the readership.

For instance, it’s a safe bet that if you are a frum male, you derive extraordinary satisfaction and pleasure in beating whatever time Waze predicted it would take you to get to your destination, and you will tell everyone at the vort you just drove in for how you achieved this Olympian feat.

If you are a frum male, you get a strange sense of fulfillment in boarding the airplane when they announce boarding for Zone 3, even though your ticket is Zone 4. It makes no difference — your seat isn’t changing, and your carry-on won’t fit in the overhead bin, regardless — but for some odd reason, it gives you a geshmak.

I think I can comfortably assert that you do not know the words to the low part of “Shaarei Shamayim Psach.” (Someone at your Purim seudah will sing it, and then everyone will falter and you will keep going, gaining instant respect when you keep singing: tzekon lachasham keshov, Kah shochen meulim. You’re welcome.)

I can even make an accusation — and forgive me for exposing this — you once checked the house of someone suggested as a shidduch for your child on Google maps. (Not because you care how big it is, more just to make sure it’s neat and well-kept, I know, I know.)

Okay, here’s one more, and it’s even more personal.

Right now, coming into this Purim, you are scared. It doesn’t feel like Purim usually does. You aren’t sure if it’s appropriate to rejoice, or how you could be busy discussing if it’s better to go with dry or semi-dry when so many brothers and sisters are mourning or in danger.

But here’s the thing about Purim and its story — perhaps the best-known of all the stories that are part of our legacy, inheritance, and birthright.

Purim itself tells us what to feel this year, 2024.

Chazal tell us that when the letters against Klal Yisrael were sealed, Haman and his team went out to celebrate. They had gotten exactly what they wanted.

No doubt, the diplomats and politicians from across the spectrum also saw which way the wind was blowing, telling askanim with whom they had always been so close that they were powerless to help. (Yes, I know there are exceptions. Speaking of which, another fearless prediction: In certain neighborhoods, Senator Fetterman will be a big costume this year. Pretty easy if you ever went to any mesivta summer camp, since you walked around in a hoodie and shorts all day anyhow.)

In Yiddishe homes, unease turned to panic turned to full-blown fear. There was no turning back.

Mordechai Hatzaddik saw three little boys on their way home from school, and he asked them what they had learned that day. “Pesok li pesukecha,” he asked, recite to me your pasuk. This too is a form of nevuah.

The first boy didn’t hesitate. “Al tira mipachad pis’om — Do not fear terror that comes suddenly, nor the destruction of the wicked when it comes,” he said.

Then the next boy said the pasuk he had learned. “Utzu eitzah v’sufar — Plan a conspiracy and it will be annulled, for Hashem is with us.”

The third boy took his turn. “V’ad ziknah ani hu — Until your old age I am the One… I created you and I shall carry you and rescue you.”

Mordechai heard this and rejoiced.

We say these three pesukim together after Aleinu several times each day, even though they are not listed in order and are not all from the same sefer. Their connection comes from this midrash, from the Purim story.

If throughout the year we are meant to finish davening and head out into the streets with the reassurance that there is no reason to fear, then on Purim we certainly have to contemplate the words.

Al tira.

Okay, but you are scared, right? You hear the cries of the protestors standing on streets where you are used to walking around like the balabos, and you see what it says on their signs. Their confidence is growing, and worse, they are seeing that they can get away with it.

Al tira.

But what about the fact that nations who despise each other are suddenly allies, joining forces to condemn, denounce, and lecture, 70 wolves moving into attack formation around the single trembling sheep?

Don’t worry. Ki imanu Keil.

What Mordechai heard in the answers of these children was that his tefillos were being heard, his sackcloth and ashes bringing his people to a place of imanu Keil.

Fine, but what about the blood that has already been spilled, the families already shattered by loss?

I created you and I shall carry you.

That’s the answer. He is older and He is eternal and the story He is writing isn’t just a few months long. These are chapters in an unfolding saga, and faith means that we trust the Author to come full circle, answering every question at the happy ending.

We trust the Author, because we have read His beloved Megillah, in which He taught us that even when He is in disguise — His face concealed — He is controlling every move.

Those living in Shushan went on with their lives during the nine-year period recounted in the Megillah, not even noticing the miracle at first; we don’t say Hallel, because they remained subservient to Achashveirosh (Megillah 14a).

Esther persevered, insisting that this story, this Yom Tov needed to be celebrated, because to the generations who would not understand, it would be encouragement. To people (us!) who wake up every morning desperate to hear the good news — did anything even change? — this story reminds us that change is not always visible, and in fact, sometimes it is the opposite.

This day is our day, the Yidden of 2024, deep in the middle of a suspenseful chapter of galus.

Al tira. Don’t be afraid.

How the celebration expresses itself this year — is the oversized meat-board (I’m not following board trends anymore, it went from meat to cured fish to kugel too fast for a guy from Montreal, where we’re still impressed with sushi at a parlor meeting) necessary or not — is a question for whomever you ask questions to. If the band plus singer plus deejay plus sound-guy plus lighting-guy for your party is essential to the Yom Tov or not is something to ask the wise person in your life.

But the joy?

The joy must be greater than ever before, because it's specifically at times like this, when it’s not so clear to the world that this is the winning team, that we get to revel in these words: “L’hodia…To make known that all those who put their hope in You, will not be shamed and those who take refuge in You will never be humiliated.”

We have never been more dependent on Him, and our tefillah has never been more crucial — but on Purim, we are meant to dance as we plead and to sing as we ask.

Al tira. Hold on, and it’s going to be freilech.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1004)

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