By Rabbi Aharon Spetner – Director of the American Citizens Gemach (a division of Agudath Israel of America)
(Adapted from Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol. I p.75 – מכתב בדבר אמונת חכמים)
The casual observer of the story of Purim will often overlook and/or misunderstand some of the most crucial aspects of the narrative. Take, for example, the chronology of the story. Although the tale of the Book of Esther is often told inside of a quarter of an hour, the actual story spanned more than NINE YEARS.
The Book of Esther famously begins with the feast of Achashverosh, which occurred during the THIRD YEAR of his reign. Our sages reveal (Megilla 12) that Mordechai prohibited the Jewish People from attending this feast. However, this was not due to restraints of the Jewish dietary law, as many assume. Strictly kosher food was available, and one of the two chief butlers at the feast was none other than Mordechai himself (Rashi ibid). Yet, Mordechai prohibited the Jews from attending. The Jewish People did not heed this directive from the generation’s Torah Leader and they attended, facing no repercussions.
Then, NINE YEARS later, in the TWELVTH YEAR of Achashverosh’s reign, Mordechai refused to bow to Haman because of the idol Haman would wear on his neck. There was no clear violation of Torah prohibitions in bowing down to Haman, as it would not have given off the appearance of actually serving idolatry. Indeed, the Jewish People lambasted Mordechai for his actions, accusing him of endangering the Jewish Nation (Midrash Agadath Esther 3:2). Furthermore, the Megillah relates that it was when Haman took notice of Mordechai’s refusal to bow that he began his plot to annihilate the Jewish Nation.
However, when the decree was issued to wipe out the Jewish people, Mordechai chastised the Jews, saying that the reason for this tragic decree was not his actions, but rather because the Jews had bowed to Nevuchadnezzar’s idol (at least thirty years prior) and because they had attended Achashverosh’s feast NINE YEARS earlier!
Imagine if today, in a generation where the Rabbis are commonly accused of being “out-of-touch” with the ways of modern society and its politics, a Torah Leader said or did something that seemingly caused difficulties to arise for the Jewish People (Chas V’Shalom). What would we say?
Now visualize what would happen if that Torah Leader, instead of apologizing, then blamed previous actions of the Jews for this tragedy. Imagine if he said that the reason for this calamity was because people did not listen to a specific decree issued by Torah Leaders. How would we respond?
In the story of Mordechai and Esther, the Jewish People acknowledged their wrongdoings and repented. Would we do the same today?
We must realize that our Torah Leaders in every generation (see Rashi Devarim 17:9) have greater insight than us, and even when their instructions may appear illogical and counter-intuitive, it is their words that we must heed (see Rashi ibid 17:11), not our own pompous and biased opinions.
The Jews during the time of the Purim Story realized and accepted this, and therefore merited salvation. Let us pray that this Purim we will also do the same so that we may merit salvation from our modern enemies with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.