Monday, March 01, 2021

We know the sun rises every morning and sets every evening, and we trust that this will happen again tomorrow simply because it always has. This is how nature operates. This is one way God wills His presence to be known. It is how He has established order in the universe, even if we do not always recognize His “hand” behind what we call nature. We just know that in this world the sun rises and sets, oil burns, and children are born. Bearing this in mind, let us look at the story of Purim.

As we all know, during the time of Achaveirosh, the king signed an edict that the Jews be killed. Subsequently, Mordechai told Esther that the Jews needed her intervention; Esther had to ask the king to spare the Jewish people. Esther, being initially hesitant, informed Mordechai (Megillat Esther 4:11) that whoever comes to the inner court of the king without being called by him is put to death. Only those to whom the king holds out the golden scepter are spared this demise. Mordechai responded by telling Esther that she should not think that merely being in the palace would exempt her from the fate of the rest of her people.

At this point Esther took control, saying Mordechai should gather all the Jews who were present in Shushan that they should fast for Esther, as would she and her attendants. With this preparation she would go to the king despite the risk.

The Ibn Ezra (1089-1164) notes that Esther’s own behavior was puzzling. We know that a person who fasts for three days becomes weak, and, in the case of Esther, would not look as attractive because of the ensuing weakened physical state. As King Achashveirosh chose Esther for his queen because of her physical beauty, why would she want to diminish the most valuable asset she possessed expecting to win him over? Furthermore, why did Esther tell Mordechai that she was going to fast in the first place?

The Talmud (Megillah 13a) says that Esther had a green hue to her skin and was not very attractive. She understood that if she was chosen queen, God Himself was behind it by giving her a beauty appealing to Achashveirosh—much as He is behind the natural order of the universe even if usually unacknowledged by us. Consequently, she decided to fast, appealing directly to God, not to her illusory physical beauty. She implored Mordechai to make this abundantly clear to the Jewish community.

And so, the people understood through Esther’s discernment and courage and Mordechai’s wise direction who really controls our world. The Jews exhibited faith in this reality through fasting and prayer and were saved from annihilation.

The story of Esther shows how we are to appreciate the role God plays in our lives. Nature is a system by which we regulate our lives only because God makes it so, and it is as wondrous as miracles are divinely supernatural.

Let us understand in our own lives the mundane, “natural” occurrences for the gifts from God that they truly are.

Wishing the entire Jewish community a Happy Purim filled with simcha!

Rav Ilan Acoca is rav of Congregation Bet Yosef, The Sephradic Congregation of Fort Lee, and rav beit hasefer at Ben Porat Yosef.