Esther's Lesson in Nature
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
Nature. Natural. We hear and use these words often. We know that the sun rises
every morning, and sets in the evening. How do we know when we go to sleep
that the sun will rise the next morning? Because it always does, it's supposed
to, that's part of nature. As we mentioned in the last post, "nature" as we
refer to it is really just one mode of how G-d manifests His presence. G-d is
always present. However, we often fail to recognize His presence. Why? Because
G-d made an order by which the world runs daily. The sun rises and sets. Oil
burns. Children are born. Careers end. We don't see headlines in the newspaper
that read "Child born" unless that child has six siblings who entered the
world shortly after, or the mother was in her late 50s, or the child picked
airspace above the Pacific Ocean to enter the world. These later occurrences
are out of the ordinary, not natural, and therefore make us perk up and take
notice. Nature presents us with a challenge, and it was this challenge that
Esther helped her sisters and brothers overcome.
The Talmud (Ta'anis 25a) relates a story about Rav Chanina. Rav Chanina was
known for both his dire financial situation and for the blatant miracles of
which he was the subject. Once, on a Friday eve, he noticed that his daughter
was sad. He said to her, "My daughter, why are you sad?" She replied "My oil
can got mixed up with my vinegar can and I lit the Shabbos lights with the
vinegar." He said to her: "My daughter, Why should this trouble you? He who
had commanded the oil to burn will also command the vinegar to burn." The
Talmud notes that indeed that is what happened: The light burned for the
Rav Chanina appreciated the nature of nature. Who said oil should burn? G-d
did. Therefore, if G-d wants, vinegar can burn as well. All of what we
consider natural is really miraculous. We, however, often fail to appreciate
the miraculous aspects of nature until it somehow slaps us in the face. We
have to appreciate the role of G-d in every aspect of our lives. We have to
appreciate the hand of G-d on a daily basis, for those things that don't catch
the eye of the media. If we live our lives and never recognize G-d's role, we
fail to show our thanks to G-d and our faith in G-d.
The situation was desperate. The king had signed an edict: the Jews were to be
killed. Mordechai told Esther that the Jews needed her intervention. Esther
had to go ask the King to spare the Jewish people. Esther was initially
hesitant. She told Mordechai (Esther 4:11) that whoever comes to the inner
court of the king who the king has not called will be put to death to death.
The only exception: Those to whom the king holds out the golden scepter.
Mordechai responded to this concern by telling Esther that she should not
think that because she is in the palace she will escape the fate of the rest
of her nation. Esther's reaction was in instructions: Mordechai should gather
all the Jews who are present in Shushan. They should all fast for Esther. She
and her attendants will fast likewise, and then she will go to the king,
despite the risk.
Rav Avraham ibn Ezra notes that Esther's own behavior was a bit unusual. We
know that a person who fasts for three days will become weak. They will not
look as attractive because of their weakened state. As King Achashverosh chose
Esther for queen because of her beauty, why would she want to diminish the
most valuable asset she possessed that could win over Achashverosh?
Furthermore, why did Esther tell Mordechai that she was going to fast?
The answer is that Esther understood how she managed to become queen. Esther,
the Talmud tells us, had a green pallor that was not particularly attractive.
However, G-d graced Esther with such charm and appeal that Achashverosh
selected her above anyone else. Esther realized that she achieved this
position through the hand of G-d, although others might think it was a natural
choice - Achashverosh was taken by her looks. Esther, therefore, knew that her
looks were no asset. Yes, people might find her attractive, but that is not
what will bring success: G-d will. She wanted to build within her a deep trust
in G-d. She decided to fast so that by diminishing her beauty, she would have
full faith in G-d. She could not hang her hopes on any other factor that she
possessed and could have attributed to herself. Therefore, she revealed her
plan to fast to Mordechai. If the Jews would hear the news, they would be
distraught: How could Esther diminish her beauty - the cause of Achashverosh's
attraction to her? The Jewish nation would be forced to put full faith in G-d.
They could not rely anymore on the natural attraction that existed previously.
They had to believe that G-d alone is their source of salvation, not Esther's
looks, wit, or character.
The people believed and the people were saved. They were able to remove the
blinders that nature presents and see things as they truly were: G-d controls
all. Esther achieved her goal. She got an entire nation to recognize who
controls the world, who makes nature natural: G-d. The Sages have memorialized
this accomplishment of Esther in the Megillah, and it is read by the Jewish
people every year. The name of G-d is never mentioned in the Megillah, to
illustrate that the salvation of the Jews that appeared to result from
political maneuvering and convenient coincidences was really the hand of G-d,
albeit in a clandestine, natural way. The Megillah serves as a prime example
of how we must appreciate the role G-d plays in our lives. Nature is natural
because G-d makes it so, and it is as miraculous as the supernatural. Our job
is to take in the commonplace, natural occurrences and appreciate them for
what they truly are: a gift from G-d.
A Freilichin Purim!
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.