| Purim

The decree has been promulgated and publicized through the empire. 127 provinces have received “hurried” instructions that they should “destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on a single day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month—that is, the month of Adar—and to plunder their possessions” (Esther 3:13).

Mordechai understands the only hope to avert the genocide of the Jewish people is for Esther to “go to the king and to appeal to him and to plead with him for her people”. Esther argues that doing so is impossible as entering the king’s chambers without being summoned subjects one to death. In what is perhaps the clarion call of Jewish history, Mordechai, not interested in excuses, warns Esther that that she dare not be silent as the Jewish people face extermination. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows if for this moment you rose to power” (Esther 4:14).

As powerful, and effective as Mordechai’s words turn out to be, they make little sense. Esther, we are facing an enemy worse than Amalek, genocide has been decreed and you are our only hope for survival. You must plead our case to the king, for if you do not….we will be saved. It won’t be because of you – you and your family will perish – but whether you go or don’t go the Jewish people will be saved. Why in the world would Esther risk her life if the Jewish people are going to be saved anyway? If Esther had harboured any thoughts of pleading for her people surely Mordechai’s argument would have dissuaded her of that.

One might argue that Mordechai specifically warned Esther that true the Jewish people will be saved but not you and your family. The only way to save your family is for you to go the king. If so Mordechai’s mourning and sackcloth and his whole back and forth with Esther is a personal matter having nothing to do with the nation of Israel who will be safe in any event. 

Reading the Megillah it is hard to believe that is the case, and hard to believe the rabbis would have allowed a book impacting on a couple of families into the biblical canon. Furthermore, on what basis can Mordechai make such a claim. Is it reasonable to assume all would be saved save for Esther (we will deal with his claim regarding the Jewish people shortly). And even if Mordechai truly thought that to be the case why would Esther believe such? Surely better to bet on being saved along with the Jewish people than risk my life now by approaching the king.

Perhaps Mordechai’s assertion that the Jews would be saved was a statement of faith, something he hoped and even believed to be true but not something he or anyone could know. Just as we do not know if Esther was chosen for this moment so too we cannot really know that G-d will save us. Mordechai’s words were l’havdil, akin to a pep talk a football coach might give at halftime, telling an underperforming quarterback to shape up. 'We are going to win, but do you want to be on the field or on the sidelines'? Esther, Mordechai said, we are going to be saved, do you want to be help bring that about or be lost to Jewish history?

Mordechai (and the coach) did not really know if he would be proven correct but was hoping his speech would motivate her to do what needed to be done. 

Yet perhaps Mordechai did know the Jewish people would be saved. Assuming, as (many?) of our Sages do, that Mordechai was a prophet, he might actually have known[1] that there will be salvation for the Jewish people. Why then was it so important for Esther to risk her life and why did Mordechai put on sackcloth. And why the need for a three day fast – on Pesach no less? After all, Mordechai knew all would be fine.

And here we come to a crucial point in the relationship between man and G-d. One is forbidden to act based on what one hopes, thinks or even knows G-d will do. We must follow the laws of nature in all its manifestations; science, psychology, political realities and so much more. We dare not rely on miracles – only on our own actions. We must act assuming G-d will not get involved, and hence cannot be relied upon. We must assume G-d is completely out of the picture, is very far from us [2]and only we can bring about our salvation. 

It is for this reason one must build a fence on a flat roof despite the fact that yipol hanofel, those destined to die are going to die regardless of whether or not one builds a fence – and those destined to live even if there is no fence (see Rashi, Devarim 23:8). G-d does what He must do and we must do what we must do.

While this has always been true it is even more true today – and today started some 2,600 years ago. Purim marks a new period of Jewish history, a period of where G-d is hidden. The period of prophecy has come to an end. If one could not rely on G-d during the period of prophecy, how much more so is that true today when we have absolutely no way of knowing what G-d is thinking or planning on doing.

We can and must believe that ultimately it is G-d who saves us and it is for this reason we pray to Him. But we can pray and pray some more but actions speak louder than words. And who knows? Maybe your actions will bring salvation to the Jewish people.

[1] Of course being a prophet does not necessarily mean he knew what would be. The role of the prophet is to be G-d's spokesperson, not to predict the future. This is especially so with Mordechai with whom, at least in the Biblical text, is never spoken to by G-d.

[2] Rabbi Eliezer Fleckles in the introduction to his responsa, Teshuva MeAhava explains that we should assumme G-d is far from us. He understands the verse Shiviti Hashem lenegdi tamid (Tehillim 16:8), normally translated that G-d is besides us always - should be translated G-d is neged, opposed to me and is far away. You can read his introduction here (hebrew).