Purim, aside from being a day of festivities and fun, is actually one of, if not the, most spiritually charged days of the Jewish year. It is considered of such centrality that the Talmud, when discussing what the messianic era will look like, concludes that Purim, unlike other festivals, will continue to be observed as it is now. It’s significance, is so eternally fundamental that it will continual to remain crucial even in a time when G-d’s presence is manifest to a degree that renders other areas of Jewish observance no longer applicable in their current format. What then is the eternally significant message of Purim, and of what practical relevance is it to us living in the 21st century? In truth there are many highly relevant themes running throughout Purim. One particularly pertinent message is expressed at an emotional high point of the Megillah. It’s ramifications, if internalised, are potentially life-changing.

The Jewish people, as has been true on numerous occasions in our eventful history, seem doomed to destruction at the hands of an anti-Semite who has developed an obsessive urge to wipe them out on the basis that ‘we are different.’ Their fate seems sealed and all hope lost; the irreversible decree has been passed and Haman is in pole position to carry out his evil decree. The Jewish people are in a state of despair and mourning.

Mordechai, the eternal optimist, relays a message to Esther urging her to attempt to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people and beg the King, her husband, to repel the decree and thereby save the Jewish people from their impending annihilation.

Mordechai, sensing a degree of hesitation in Esther’s response, sends her an urgent message which sets in motion the radical transformation in the Purim story and our eventual triumph. It was this heartfelt message that convinced Esther to put her life on the line and, ultimately, save the Jewish people and be remembered forever as a heroine of Jewish history. Mordechai sought to forcefully persuade Esther to rise to the challenge with the following message:

“…If you persist in keeping silent at this point in time, relief and salvation will come to the Jewish people from another source and you and your household will disappear (i.e. be forgotten). And who knows if it wasn’t for this very moment in time that you have risen to this position of royalty?” What was it about this message which served as the inspiration to Esther and has continued to inspire generations of Jewish leaders until the present day?

There are two elements to Mordechai’s message which, if understood correctly, are tremendously empowering and inspiring. The first appears, at first glance, highly disempowering; Mordechai tells Esther that ultimately her role is irrelevant – history will take its course regardless of her involvement. This seems both philosophically troubling and somewhat depressing – if history has already been written then aren’t pretty much all of our efforts futile? What’s the point of working towards any goal when the success of that goal is already recorded in the script and just waiting to be played out? Even within the localised context of the Purim story – what sort of inspiring message is Mordechai providing for Esther – ‘you are a nobody who can have no bearing on the salvation of the Jewish people…. So now rise to the challenge of saving them?!’ The answer to this question expresses the Jewish approach to our entire existence in this world. It is true – G-d has a Masterplan as to exactly how the history of the Jewish people will progress. G-d had already promised that the Jewish people could not be destroyed and therefore Haman could never have been successful in his attempts to destroy us. But, at the same time, how we would survive was left to us to decide.

Mordechai was urging Esther to opt for the lead role in the inevitable escape from disaster. It was at this exact point in time that Esther had a stark choice to make – did she want to be eternally etched into the history of the Jewish people as a human agent of the Divine plan, or did she wish to opt out and be forgotten with the passage of time? Mordechai’s message was not at all disempowering; on the contrary, he was offering Esther the chance to play the lead role in saving the Jewish people at this most crucial moment in their history. Had Esther have opted out it is true that Purim would have happened, but it would have been a different Purim and she would not have been the central character of the story.

The second element of Mordechai’s message is also a profound one. Esther’s rise to royalty was by no means a ‘rags to riches’ fairytale. It was a tragic episode of a kidnapping of an innocent and happily married lady by an evil and twisted King. Esther had been torn from her home and was living a traumatic life forcibly married to the King. She had essentially been imprisoned for no reason. Yet now, with the rise of Haman to power, suddenly Esther’s pain and torment created the opening for her central role in the triumph. As Mordechai here reminds Esther: “And who knows if it wasn’t for this very moment in time that you have risen to this position of royalty?” Suddenly all the tragedy of the previous years of Esther’s experiences took on new meaning as they served as a necessary prerequisite for the central role she was about to play.

The same principle is true of every one of us. There is no such thing as coincidence. Even one’s negative life experiences are necessarily the basis of our future successes, if we choose to use them as such. Empirically the truth of this message is clear – the best councillors in any given area are often those who have experienced the very same tragedy/challenge as the person they are now trying to help[1]. We do not look for problems in life. But at the same time once experienced they are to be utilised as a tool for the good. This is exactly what Mordechai was urging Esther to do. Purim, then, is a time of great joy which we primarily express through eating, drinking and generally having fun. At the same time, it is a day of great inner meaning and significance which, if utilised, will totally enhance both the day itself and the rest of our year.

[1] There is a famous story of a Chassidic Rebbe (the Klausenberg Rebbe) who lost every member of his large family during the Holocaust. A fellow survivor who had been similarly bereaved was, understandably, a broken man after liberation. Previously a fully observant Jew, he turned away from Judaism and expressed his disbelief in G-d after what he had witnessed. Many tried to reason with him, but to no avail. Someone convinced him, finally, to meet with the Rebbe. Everyone assumed the Rebbe would present some sort of reasoned argument with him. Yet when the man arrived and sat down opposite the Rebbe, they exchanged stories, and the Rebbe just burst into tears in this man’s presence. They then simply sat together crying for the duration of their meeting. The man left rejuvenated. For the first time, he felt someone had been able to understand him and relate to his experiences and grief. Obviously the Rebbe was only able to help this man because of the tragedy that had befallen him. (Of course that does not explain why he had experienced such tragedy, but it does serve as an example of this principle that one’s seemingly negative, or tragic, experiences do serve the basis of one’s later greatness and achievements.)

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