Purim as a Model for Making a Difference

by Rabbi Akiva Gersh

Purim comes at an auspicious time in the Hebrew calendar. Falling on the full moon in the month of Adar, when it is not a leap year, it occurs exactly one month, one cycle of the moon, after Tu B’Shvat, and one month, one cycle of the moon, before Pesach. Three holidays falling on three consecutive full moons, each one offering their own commentary on our relationship with the natural world. On Tu B’Shvat we enjoy the fruits of Eretz Yisrael and reflect upon the divine beauty and wisdom that Hashem placed into all of creation. On Purim we are reminded of the divine hand that guides all of nature as well as human history and our own lives, which is so often hidden beneath the surface of the events of life that involve us and surround us. Pesach is the annual celebration of our redemption from Egyptian bondage, brought about through open and extreme changes in the laws of nature, showing us and the entire world that behind all of nature is G-d.

But what in the actual story and teachings of Purim can we learn that will help us to protect our fragile planet and the myriad of creatures that live in it?

Here’s a thought.

Purim teaches us is that no matter how bad things may get, we should hold on strong to our faith and belief that Hashem is still present in the day to day matters of this world and is, in His own mysterious way, helping to move things towards a good end. Hashem wants this world to improve; He wants there to be a cessation of the evil that is done. But that doesn’t mean we sit back during times of crisis and let Hashem do all the work. It doesn’t even mean that we spend all day in the beit kenneset and pray for the tikkun olam that we long for (though prayer, as we will discuss, is essential). In Megillas Esther we are shown the Jewish model of dealing with a dire situation. It serves as an instructional voice to all those who feel the call to work for the improvement of our world.

When Mordechai found out about Haman’s plan to exterminate the Jews, he put on sackcloth and ash and immersed himself in prayer, pleading before Hashem to save his chosen people. Upon hearing about this, Esther sent Mordechai regular clothes to change into so that he could enter the royal palace and speak with her, since there was a law in the kingdom that no one wearing sackcloth can enter the royal palace. But Mordechai refused the clothing because, as the Malbim teaches, he didn’t want to stop praying for even a moment lest he appear to substitute reliance on a human being for dependence on Hashem’s mercy. So, at first it seems that Mordechai was relying completely on Hashem to help the plight of the Jews. However, shortly after, Mordechai sent a message to Esther telling her to approach King Achashverosh and plead on the Jews’ behalf in an attempt to have the decree nullified. In the midst of pouring out his heart in prayer before Hashem, his feet were firmly planted in this world trying to put together a plan that would help divert disaster for the Jewish nation.

Esther sent a message back to him saying that everyone knows that no one is allowed to approach the king without an invitation and that she was scared to do so. Mordechai then spoke his famous words to her, saying “Who knows if it was for a time like this that you arrived at royalty!” Simply speaking, Mordechai was telling Esther, “Realize that it is for this very moment that Hashem caused all the events to happen that resulted in you becoming Queen. Nothing is for naught and nothing is by chance! Don’t let the opportunity pass to use your position of power to influence the only mortal being who has the authority to nullify Haman’s wish!”

So we see here that on one side, Mordechai put his entire faith in Hashem that the Jews would be spared destruction; and on the other he pushed Esther to seek a more down-to-earth means to help prevent the Jews’ demise.

From this we can learn and take with us that whenever we find ourselves in a situation that looks like defeat and disaster is inevitable, whether that be on the personal level or the global, we should undertake a strategy that involves both the spiritual as well as the earthly realm. We should raise our eyes to the skies and realize that everything (everything!) comes from Hashem, therefore it is surely in His capability to undo the distress. Our tradition teaches us that everything that happens in this world has its roots in the spiritual realm; therefore we must recognize that even the current day environmental crisis is really a reflection of the spiritual reality of our world. Without prayer and other forms of spiritual work, the solution would simply be incomplete. At the same time, however, we should also lower our eyes and look around and see what it is that we, as flesh and blood human beings, can do with our minds, our hearts, our speech and our actions to change the course of the status quo, to inspire positive change in the world and help others to heed the call as well.

It’s what Hashem wants of us. It’s what it means to be a human being, a creature literally made of heaven and earth. To have our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground, dreaming up the greatest dreams and at the same time working on the plan that will make those dreams reality.

One more thought in closing. In Mordechai’s statement to Esther (“Who knows if it was for a time like this that you arrived at royalty!”) the word in Hebrew for royalty is malchutMalchut is often referred to as “the world of speech” in that the spoken word represents the essential medium of self-expression, allowing one to not only reveal himself to outer reality but to guide and influence that reality as well. The spiritual state identified in Chassidut as corresponding to malchut is that of humility.[1] When in a state of malchut, of humility, a person can “step out of the way” allowing Hashem to not only act by Himself, but rather through us as well.[2] As a result a person can achieve the level of acting, not rooted in inner egotistic drives, but rather l’shma, purely wanting divine will to manifest through him.

Perhaps Mordechai was not only commenting on Esther taking advantage of her physical status within the kingdom, but on her own individual spiritual state as well. Maybe Mordechai was reminding Esther of the fact that she was placed in her position specifically so that she could be the vessel through which Hashem brings about the salvation and tikkun olam that was destined to come.

This Purim, may the words of Mordechai and actions of Esther inspire us to deepen our commitment to a healthy environment through both spiritual and physical means. May we be aware of our strengths, our passion and our positions of influence in this world and attach it to humility in order that our hearts and hands become an extension of G-d in the holy work of fixing and bringing completion to all of creation.



[1]    Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg, Gal Enai

[2]    Rabbi Shimon Lieberman, Aish HaTorah

Originally posted in “On Eagles’  Wings” February 28th 2007