By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I always have trouble feeling joyous on Purim. That salvation happened thousands of years ago, and we have had so many troubles since then; and we have scores of problems, here at home and in Israel. Any suggestions?
The miracle of Purim was one of a great “reversal.” What was going to be our destruction became our redemption. When Haman thought he was going to the king to have Mordechai deposed, he became the one who was ordered to lead Mordechai through the streets of the capital with the greatest honor. The enormous gallows he erected to have Mordechai hanged was the very same gallows he himself was hanged upon. The date that the Amalekites had decreed to kill every last Jewish man, woman and child murdered became the very same date that Israel’s enemies were destroyed. The Megillah of Esther calls the month of Adar, “the month that was reversed, from sorrow to rejoicing, from mourning to festival” (9:22).
The precedent to this phenomenon was the episode of Balaam, the Gentile prophet who, in the employ of the wicked Balak, sought to curse the Jewish people into decimation (Numbers, Ch. 22-24). Instead, all his curses were reversed into blessings. “But Hashem, your G-d, refused to listen to Balaam, and Hashem, your G-d, reversed the curse to a blessing for you, because Hashem, your G-d, loved you” (Deuteronomy 24:6).
This happening is a sine qua non for much of Jewish history and, truth be told, for the Jewish outlook on life. The Talmud speaks of a pious man nicknamed Nachum Ish Gamzu. He was called that because his motto in life was “Gam zu l’tova,” or “This is also for the good.” No matter how negative a situation he found himself in, he would utter, with complete faith and trust in G-d’s goodness, “Gam zu l’tova.” Only later would the others around him see how the seemingly horrendous situation was actually the best circumstances they could have found themselves in. Through his remarkable trust in G-d, he lived a life of reversals.
I once read an account of German Jews who had gained transport on a British ship to escape the Nazis to England at the outset of the war. They were treated very roughly by the British crew, who stole many of their valuables. Their hearts sank when they passed England, obviously rerouted to another undisclosed locale. During the long trip they were harassed, and the remainder of their belongings stolen from them. All they had left were their pictures and letters from their loved ones, their final vestige of humanity. Then the British confiscated from them that final remnant of their past, and cast the Jews’ letters into the sea. At that point the Jews sank into depression, and felt that with that loss all was lost. As soon as they disembarked and the ship returned to the high seas, it was blown up by a German submarine. After the war the commander of that submarine was interviewed and asked to explain why he blew up the ship full of Jews only after they disembarked. He explained that they were about to sink it when it left England’s waters, but suddenly they noticed the sea was full of papers. They pulled the papers onto the submarine, and, although were very blotted and impossible to read, they could at least tell that the letters were written in German, making them realize the British had a ship full of German nationals. They decided to guard the ship, rather than destroy it, until they were sure the Germans on board had gotten to safety. Little did they imagine they were protecting a ship full of Jews! What those Jews had thought was their destruction was actually their salvation!
The reversal of Purim is a Jewish paradigm; we need to rejoice in G-d’s love for us and look for the reversals in our own lives today. A joyous Purim to you and all the readers!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried