PURIM – KI TISSA 5778
Not all miracles are the same. As the old joke goes, every Jewish holiday comes down to the same basic theme: “They tried to kill us. Gd saved us. Let’s eat!” Still, the story behind each holiday expresses it differently. Sometimes Gd’s intervention is as plain as day—like walls of water at the Red Sea, manna from heaven in the desert and Joshua stopping the sun with his prayer at Givon. These are the heroic, supernatural displays that only the Ribono shel Olam (Master of the Universe) could pull off. It’s as if Gd painted a huge mural and signed His name in fluorescent blue with: “I am Hashem your Gd.”
Then there are miracles like the Purim story—understated, implicit, and enmeshed in the ebb and flow of events. Like an anonymous tapestry, the Megillah of Esther weaves an intricate, real-life drama that doesn’t even mention the name of Gd. How strange? How can a book of the Bible not even have one reference or mention of Gd? To understand this one needs to understand the history surrounding the Purim story.
The opening verse in the Megillah points to its historic time period: “And it came to pass in the days of Achashverosh, the Achashverosh who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces.” History records that Cyrus was the 1st king of Persia, and that he allowed the Jews to return to Israel and Jerusalem and rebuild the 1st Temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians. The prophets clearly understood this as the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Temple would be rebuilt 70 years after its destruction so that the Jews would be able to fulfill the command by Gd to return to the Holy Land. Just as promised, the time of redemption from the Babylonian Exile had come. We also know that since Achashverosh was a Persian king the story of Esther had to come after Cyrus—after Jews had returned to rebuild the Temple.
However, most Jews did not return. Only about 40,000 returned. As a student of Jewish history I have discovered a law of Jewish migration that has proven to be true in every age: Jews don’t move when they’re well-off financially unless they’re forced out. They prospered in their exile in Babylonia and under Persian rule. Those who remained in Persia were then encouraged to make donations for the brave pioneers who left to rebuild the Holy Land. Sound familiar? Yehuda HaLevi puts it this way in his Sefer HaKuzari (2:24): Had the entire nation enthusiastically answered the Divine call to return to the Land, the idyllic prophecies of the return to Zion would have been fulfilled and the Shechina [Divine Presence of Gd] would have returned.
Perhaps the absence of Gd’s name in the Megillah is to show those who stubbornly remained in exile that—as I like to put it—if you ignore Gd, Gd will ignore you and not protect you from the vagaries of this world. Gd wants us to find Him, but if his Presence were too obvious, we wouldn’t have a choice whether or not to believe, and Gd wants us to choose to believe in Him.
The Megillah is called Megilat Esteyr. Esteyr refers to Esther, but its literal meaning is “that which is hidden.” The word Megillah refers to a scroll but literally means, “that which is revealed.” So Megilat Esteyr actually means, “revealing that which is hidden.” And so, yes, Gd is in the Megillah story, but He’s hidden to tell us that He wanted those exiles who ignored Him to see Him in the story of their lives and choose to believe in Him.
It’s not much different in our lives. The Jewish people have experienced Gd’s open miracles as we see in the Passover story of our past that we’ll soon read at the Seder. Gd is still active in our lives, but we have to choose to see it. Let me illustrate with a couple of modern Purim examples of “revealing that which is hidden.”
In the Megillah of Esther, after revealing the plot of Haman to destroy her and the Jews, King Achashverosh asks Esther what he can do to help her and her people. Esther asks the king to hang the 10 sons of Haman (Esther 9:13). But, in the narrative the 10 sons have already been killed! Rabbi Chaim Weissmandl suggests that this refers to sometime in the future when 10 more sons of Haman will be killed.
Newsweek magazine, October 28, 1946, recorded that as 10 Nazi war criminals were hung at Nuremberg—as were Haman’s sons—one of the Nazis, Julius Streicher, called out “Purim Fest 1946!”
There were 11 Nazis slated to be killed that day. Only 10 were because one, Herman Goring, committed suicide in his cell. Could this correspond to Haman's daughter who killed herself as well—especially if you consider that Goring was a well-known cross dresser?
To top it all off, if one looks carefully at the names of Haman’s 10 sons as they are written in the Megillah, you would see that there are 3 letters written with a smaller font: a taf, a shin and a zayin. Taf, shin, zayin is a way of writing a year—the Jewish year 5707—which was 1946!
What Hitler did was unprecedented in the scope of its horror. But there was another Haman in the world of that time: Stalin. Although Stalin fought against Hitler, he was also an anti-Semite who liked what Hitler did to the Jews. After the war, Stalin became more aggressive in his paranoia about Jews and decided to take more practical steps to eliminate them. When Israel’s 1st ambassador, Golda Meir, arrived in Moscow 5 months after the birth of the Jewish state in October 1948, she visited the Choral synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Since this was one of the only synagogues in the Soviet Union the communists hadn’t destroyed, it was assumed that it would be crowded—especially because it was known that she was coming. But no one was prepared with what actually happened. More than 50,000 Jews showed up outside the shul to greet her and to cheer her!
Stalin was incensed. After she left, Jewish leaders were arrested and tortured. Jewish theaters, newspapers and publishing houses were closed and anti-Semitic hysteria spread throughout the Soviet Union.
In the infamous “doctors plot,” the most qualified Jewish doctors were arrested and tortured. Their show-trial was supposed to begin during the 1st week of March 1953 and then, one week later, they were to be publicly hanged in Moscow and other big cities around the USSR. On the same day, a letter from prominent Jews would be published that asked Stalin to save the Jewish people from pogroms by sending them to Siberia. In a couple of days, all Jews in the Soviet Union were to be rounded up and deported there.
Every part of this evil plan was set in place. Officers were waiting for the go ahead, with thousands of cattle and cargo cars at the ready. Sound familiar? Those Jews who would survive this deportation—a grueling month-long trip—would die in a few days after arrival in the Siberian cold. More than 3 million Jews of Stalin’s empire who managed to survive the Holocaust would be now exterminated.
However, all this never happened because Stalin suddenly died. Nikita Khrushchev recounted Stalin’s deathbed order to him: “The good workers at the factory should be given clubs so they can beat...those Jews.” Those pogroms were supposed to become starting signals for the deportations of the Jews under the pretext to save them.
Knowing better than anyone else what their evil boss was about and fearing for their own lives, Stalin’s closest gang members chose that time to poison him at a drinking party on March 1st, 1953—you guessed it, the night of Purim! Who knows how many Jewish lives were saved that Purim night? Perhaps 3 million!
As in the Purim story and as in so many events in our lives, Gd is not always obvious. But if we just open our eyes we will see Him and all the blessings he showers upon us. Amen!