by Rabbi Dovid Green
In addition to the four Mitzvos (commandments) which we practice on Purim
*(see below), there is one other idea which was written in the Book of
Esther to be followed for generations. That is the "words of the fasts and
their outcries (Esther 9:31)." This refers to the three days of fasting and
prayer which the Jews did before Esther entered the king's inner chambers
without permission. Why is this something so important for all generations?
It is meant to teach us the perspective we should have about troubles, and
praying for relief from them.
When Haman decreed that all Jews in the kingdom should be killed, and
the written decree went out, it states in the Book of Esther "and
Mordechai knew all that had occurred (Esther 4:1)." This means he
understood for what purpose the decree had occurred. In Tractate
Megillah one of the reasons given for the decree that the Jews should be
killed is that they took part in the feast which King Achashverosh made.
This great feast celebrated the passing of the seventy years prophesied
that would end the exile and mark the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in
Jerusalem. Many Jews had a desire to assimilate, and hence distance
themselves from G-d. As a reaction to this G-d brought them a trouble
meant to bring them closer. Mordechai understood this and acted
"And he (Mordechai) donned sackcloth and ashes and he went out into the
middle of the city and cried a great and bitter outcry (Esther:4:1)."
This was Mordechai's initial reaction to the decree. Prayer. He
understood that the decree was in order to bring the Jews closer, and so
prayer was the first step in achieving that goal. Normally, the first
step would be to work on the political level, and then to pray that
their efforts would succeed. Here Mordechai knew that prayer was the
first reaction since the whole trouble was to bring the Jews back to
their closeness to G-d.
It's interesting to note that all of Mordechai's communications with
Esther were through a messenger who went between them (Esther 4:4-16).
One would think that at such a crucial time when the lives of so many
people were threatened, that Mordechai would want to speak face to face
with Esther. She even sent him clothing to replace his sackcloth so he
would come and speak to her in person, but he refused. Why? Again,
because being that the trouble was sent as a vehicle to bring the Jews
closer to G-d through prayer, even one minute of prayer was not worth
wasting, even to go speak to the wife of the King.
Even at the very end when it was obvious that Haman, the instigator of
the evil decree, was on his way down, and that the decree would be
averted, Mordechai did not behave any differently. Haman is ordered to
lead a royal horse with Mordechai on it dressed in royal robes and a
royal crown (Esther 6:10). Even Zeresh, Haman's wife, and his close
friends subsequently see in this event that it marks his imminent
downfall (Esther 6:13). Still, Mordechai doesn't stop for one minute.
"He got off the horse, and immediately put on his sackcloth and returned
to his place to pray."
Our lesson from this is that troubles are not just a good reason to
pray, and prayer is not just a vehicle to bring about relief from
troubles. Rather, prayer is a reason why G-d brings about the troubles
which stir a person to come closer to Him. That is why Mordechai
continued to pray after he saw Haman's downfall as imminent.
May we all be blessed with a truly happy Purim, and through the lessons
of the Purim Story may we all experience what is stated in the passage
in the Book of Esther, "And the the Jews had light and happiness, joy
and honor (Esther 8:16)."
*The four Mitzvos (commandments) of Purim
- Hearing the reading of the Book of Esther.
- Giving monetary gifts to the poor.
- Giving two prepared food gifts to at least one other person.
- Eating a festive Purim meal.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.