Purim’s joy heightened by reversal of certain death

Dear Rabbi,
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 have scores of problems now here at home and in Israel. Any suggestions?
— Martin W.
Dear Martin,
The miracle of Purim was one of a great “Reversal.” What was going to be our destruction became our redemption. Just when Haman went to the king to have Mordechai deposed, he became the very one who was ordered to lead the Jewish leader through the streets of the capital, according him the greatest honors. 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 became the very same day that their 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 decimate the Jewish people by curse (Numbers Ch. 22-24). Instead, all of his curses were reversed into blessings. “But HaShem, your God, refused to listen to Balaam, and HaShem, your God, reversed the curse to a blessing for you, because HaShem, your God loved you” (Deuteronomy 24:6).
This occurrence was a sine-qua-non for much of Jewish history. 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 dark and despairing a situation he found himself in, he would always utter, with complete faith and trust in God’s goodness, “Gam zu l’tova.” Only later would the others around him perceive how the terrible situation was actually the best circumstance they could have hoped for. Through his remarkable trust in God, Nachum lived a life of reversals.
I once read the account of German Jews who had gained transport on a British ship to escape the Nazis to England near 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 voyage they were harassed, the remainder of their belongings stolen from them. All they had left were their pictures and letters from their loved ones, their final vestiges of humanity. Then the British confiscated from them that final remnant of their past, and they cast the Jews’ letters into the sea. At that point the Jews sank into despair, and felt that 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 German 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 the ship 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 they 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 then to guard the ship until they were sure the German prisoners on board had gotten to safety and only then destroy it. 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 God’s love for us and look for the reversals in our own lives today, on both a personal and a national level. Purim is just over a week away, so we have a little time to contemplate this and notice the surprisingly good occurrences in our lives and that of our people, so we can truly be joyous on the day of Purim!

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