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Out of Order

This upcoming Tuesday, March 10, we will celebrate the holiday of Purim. One of the mitzvot of Purim is reading the Scroll of Esther (Megillah), which documents the tale of the miraculous deliverance of the Jews in Persia from Haman’s dastardly plot. Jewish law is quite strict on the obligation to hear each word of the Megillah read, in the proper order. In fact, the halachah states, hakoreh Megillah l’mafraia lo yatzah—One who reads the Megillah out of order has not discharged the obligation.

The Baal Shem Tov offers a unique interpretation of the above phrase. “One who reads the Megillah out of order”—meaning, one who reads the Megillah as a tale that happened long ago, that has no relevance for today—has not discharged the obligation. When listening to the Megillah read on Purim, we must be mindful of its message for us, today.

The Jews experienced a heyday of sorts in Persia under King Achashverosh. Mordechai, the Jewish leader, enjoyed a prominent position in the king’s court, and one of their own, Esther, was the queen. Mordechai’s stature rose even higher after he revealed a plot on the king’s life and saved him.

When Mordechai and Esther found out about Haman’s plot against the Jews, their most natural course of action was to use their connections to intervene with the king on behalf of their people. Mordechai would remind Achashverosh of his indebtedness for saving his life, while Esther would use the power of the king’s attraction to her to nullify the decree.

However, as the Megillah relates, Mordechai and Esther first took a different approach. The first thing Mordechai did was to don sackcloth and ashes and go forth in the city. He began to pray and return to G-d, and called upon the Jews to do the same. Then he called on Esther and asked her to do everything in her power to save her people.

Before Esther approached the king, she first asked Mordechai to declare a three-day fast for prayer and repentance. She, too, fasted, together with her maidservants.

Surely, before this important meeting with the king, Esther’s first priority should have been to look as beautiful as possible. Fasting would certainly not do anything for her looks. Why not forgo the fast in order to ensure that she would look her best when approaching the king?

Mordechai and Esther chose this approach because they knew that salvation would not come through them alone. They understood that the decree came about because of the sins of the people, and the way to nullify the decree was to rectify those sins, through collective prayer, fasting and repentance. The natural measures they took—to intervene with the king—would be blessed with success only after the spiritual preparations were made.

The message for our time is clear. When faced with hard times or calamities, we must of course be practical and look for ways to solve the problem. Yet we must remember the lesson of the Megillah, and first and foremost, place our trust in G-d. Through strengthening our connection with Him, through prayer, Torah study and good deeds, our efforts will be blessed with success and we will overcome all tzarot and difficulties.

 

 


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