The divine and the natural: Courage and unity

By Rabbi Dan Lewin

As we entered the final month of Adar this week, “the month that was reversed for them (the Jewish people) from grief to joy (Esther 9:22), we prepare for Purim by increasing in happiness. And during this leap year, when there are two Adars, we already have a head start.

The salvation of the Jews in Persia stands as one of the most treasured events and joyous festivals in the calendar. In the vast tapestry of Jewish history, countless miracles are woven, each contributing to the remarkable survival of the Jewish people across generations. One poignant analogy offered by the Sages likens the existence of the Jewish nation in exile to that of “a solitary lamb surrounded by 70 wolves.” It underscores the profound protection and guidance provided by the Great Shepherd.

But here lies the twist: So long as the lamb acknowledges the Shepherd as its guardian, its protection ensues. However, should the lamb mistakenly attribute its survival to the character of the wolves, the Shepherd withdraws His added supervision, allowing natural forces to take their course until it becomes evident that without divine intervention, the wolves would prevail.

The background of the Purim story, as encapsulated in the Talmud, mirrors this analogy. The Jewish citizens of Shushan, invited to the royal feast, initially reveled in their recognition and status, losing sight of the divine root of their free prosperity. Once this happened, the door to evil was open and they became vulnerable to seemingly random forces. This subtle mental downfall serves as a poignant reminder to maintain focus on the ultimate source of our blessings.

Salvation smuggled in nature

Purim exemplifies a unique blend of divine intervention within the framework of natural events. Once the Jewish people woke up and Esther and Mordechai began to work on their plan, the pieces began to move in just the right way — a perfect illustration of how mundane occurrences align harmoniously to orchestrate salvation.

When attempting to nullify the decree of Haman, Mordechai and Esther played different roles. Knowing that every occurrence in this world has a heavenly cause, Mordechai sought the cure by tapping into the source. When hearing of the decree to exterminate the Jews, his primary occupation as a spiritual guide for his people was to arouse repentance and gather all the Jewish children in prayer.

Esther, on the other hand, was situated in the palace, isolated from her community. At the same time, this setup served a vital function: Her role was to use her influence to convince the king. Simply put, Mordechai’s concentration was to open heavenly channels and arouse mercy; Esther’s was to pursue natural pathways to annul the evil verdict. In more mystical terms, she would prepare the natural receptacle to hold the special divine intervention that he would provoke.

The name Esther

The Hebrew name Esther itself comes from the same root as “hester,” hiding, and hints at a double hiding as we find in the verse: “I will hide, yes hide, my face (Deuteronomy 31:18).” The evil decree in the story of Esther was a situation of “G-d hiding his face” — a dark and terrifying time for the Jewish people. We commemorate the deliverance by reading the “Megillah,” which means revelation.

Like the first sunlight after the blackness of night, she went down into the lowest of places to eventually bring about deliverance for her people. She dealt with the darkest characters, sowed the seeds of salvation and changed a bitter circumstance into the greatest joy and a light that still endures.

Joy breaks barriers

Continuing the main theme of this month, the mystical takeaway is that “when you show a happy face below, you provoke a heavenly joy in response.” Holding on to your sense of joy, even when you are faced with a negative situation, has the power to flip that situation and reveal the hidden blessing.

The above ideas, lessons from Shushan, are particularly relevant today. We, as Jews, are fighting many battles — physical, psychological and spiritual. A huge weapon on the side of good is showing the enemy that life proceeds as normal — or even better. Amidst the backdrop of ongoing conflict, the resilience of the Jewish people shines brightly. A visit to Israel reveals a nation undeterred, bustling with activity and despite looming threats from all directions.

While soldiers are away, valiantly defending their homeland, life in Israel’s cities continues with remarkable normalcy. Restaurants remain open, construction projects forge ahead and the pulse of daily life beats steadfastly. It’s a paradoxical scene that defies logic and description, where amidst the chaos of war, a sense of stability and perseverance pervades.

In the hospitals, one encounters an equally peculiar atmosphere — a celebration that covers natural concern. Visitors flock day and night to be with those wounded in battle. These crowds display unmistakable joy and camaraderie for their young heroes who were ready to sacrifice their lives, with love and pride, for their people. Songs of hope and resilience fill the air — a further testament to the unyielding spirit of the Jewish people.

This indomitable courage and renewed unity — among Israelis of all backgrounds — in the face of enormous adversity encapsulates the essence of Purim. Here too, the intense threat and pressure humbled and saved us, bringing the suprarational powers of the soul to the forefront and reminding us of our supernatural survival.

Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit www.maayan-chai.org.

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