The situation that the Jewish people found themselves in during the time of the Megillah
should have been one of the safest and best eras for the Jewish people. When we look through history we see that there were many times when the Jews were in a bad situation. They were a minority, there was an evil anti-Semitic ruler, and so it wouldn't be surprising if there were decrees against them. But in that period, Mordechai was not only the head of the Sanhedrin
, he was also one of the king's advisors. He wasn't the highest. But he was part of the king's government on some level.
This is a nice thing to have -- someone like Mordechai representing us. He could be a spokesman; he could intervene on our behalf if necessary. And who was the queen? A Jewess, and a deeply religious Jewess at that. When else in Jewish history was there a Jewish queen in a foreign land who was G-d-fearing? One would imagine with Esther being queen and Mordechai in the government that the Jews could be very relaxed for at least as long as this period lasted. But we find that precisely in this period, not only was there an evil decree against the Jews, but the worst decree ever made. The Rebbe explains that there were three ways in which this decree was worse than any other which ever happened before or after:
- Haman's decree was universal, against all the Jews in Achashverosh's dominion. He was the king of 127 countries from Hodu to Cush -- the entire populated known world of that time. Accordingly, there was nowhere to flee to. Even though Hitler was very evil, there were many Jews who owed their lives to the fact that they had somewhere to escape to.
- Haman wanted to kill everyone. Pharaoh wanted to kill only the boys. Other decrees concerned only men in the army. In czarist Russia there was a decree against Jewish youth, forcing them into the army at a young age (the Cantonists), but they didn't go around killing older men, women, children and infants. Later, under communist rule, the decree was mainly against adults, even though the purpose was to isolate the children so that they could educate them in the ways of communism. Haman wanted to kill man, woman and infant. Everybody. No one was to be spared.
- Everybody was supposed to be killed in one day. In Hitler's case, even though the decree was very, very severe, it took place over a period of several years. And even people who were in the concentration camps on the day of the liberation might have died a week later, but they were spared because the liberation took place that day. So when a decree is spread out over a period of time, there's a hope that maybe the one who made the decree will die, or be conquered. But if it all happens so quickly, there's no time to escape.
In these three ways, Haman's decree was worse than any other decree that took place, before or after -- and precisely in an era which should have been so secure, they suffered the worst of all decrees.
The point is that even though naturally, logically, they should have been secure, the security of the Jewish people isn't dependent on natural forces. We are a supernatural nation and therefore, natural conditions don't play a major role in Jewish history. According to all logical calculations, according to the rules of nature, we shouldn't even be here; we have no natural right to exist.
My mother once showed me a quote by Mark Twain, called "The Mystery of the Jew." He says in essence that the Jewish nation is less than one percent of the world's population. One percent is nothing. He writes as if it's like a whisker. It's a hair, it's nothing. Naturally the Jews should be completely overshadowed by the other 99-plus percent of the world's population. They should, if anything, be less than one percent in every field. And yet, he writes, we see that they are prominent not only in medicine and in law, but in many other fields. He enumerates all of the fields in which Jewish people have been prominent: Statesmanship, finance, arts, literature, medicine, science and technology, and today, in government. In so many fields the Jewish people have excelled and been prominent far beyond their numbers. Even the mere fact that the Jewish people have survived is amazing, he writes. Of course, we are aware of all this, but he was a gentile, and also noted this fact: "Where are the Romans and where are the other nations that have persecuted the Jews?" he asks. The Jew has survived and outlived all of the nations that have tried to stifle him. So the Jewish people's survival is not natural and we never depended on natural reasons for our existence. The only reason we exist is because HaShem wants us to exist. And if HaShem didn't want us to exist we would not.
You all must have heard what happened when a Scud missile fell on an American building in Saudi Arabia? Twenty-seven soldiers died, so far, and a few hundred were injured because of one missile that fell. Thirty-nine missiles fell in Israel, and not one person was killed because of a direct hit. One person was killed not from the missile, but from what they call the aftermath. Not one Jew. Could anybody explain that? A house can be rebuilt, furniture can be replaced. There is not one person who is crying over his lost house. Everybody that had their house destroyed was overjoyed to be alive. You know when you come through that situation you don't cry over your dining room set. You just say baruch HaShem it's the dining room set and not me. If that isn't a miracle I don't know what is. HaShem is undoubtedly with us. There's no other explanation.
Now, when the Jewish people sinned by eating non-kosher food at Achashverosh's feast, that indicated a weakening of their faith in HaShem and that was the catalyst for the decree of Haman, despite the fact that Esther was the queen and Mordechai a minister in the government.
When the Jewish people became aware of the severity of the decree, they did not send diplomatic missions to Achashverosh. They didn't try to undo the decree by natural means. It was because the Jews did teshuvah. The decree was nothing more than a threat. It was all torn up and erased by their teshuvah. Its purpose was just to make them come home.
One of the first things Mordechai did was to proclaim a fast. He also took the little children to learn Torah and daven with him. Torah, prayer and fasting. These are the three ingredients of teshuvah. Mordechai understood the situation very clearly. He told the Yidden, "If we don't do teshuvah we're all going to die. So we'd better do teshuvah this minute."
Now had Esther been thinking in a natural frame of mind, she would have said, "Since Achashverosh married me for my beauty, let me try and charm him some more and try to get him to rescind the decree." We see she said nothing like that. She said, "I and my maidens will also fast -- for three days!" Now we know what we look like after missing breakfast. And if you fast the whole day take a look at yourself. After Tishah BeAv or after Yom Kippur you don't look so great, even with make-up on. If you're starving it shows. Try to think what you'd look like after not eating for three days. There are bags under your eyes, your skin is sallow. You look terrible. After a three-day fast she says, "I'm going to go to Achashverosh." Mordechai might have said to her, "What do you mean? He married you because you're beautiful. You're going to go to him?! You look like a wreck. You should first eat well and look beautiful and then maybe he'll listen to you. But if you go to him after three days of fasting he's not going to look at you because he's not a spiritual person; he only likes you for your looks."
But Esther and Mordechai understood that the reason Esther found favor in Achashverosh's eyes was not merely that she was beautiful. As a matter of fact, one of the commentaries says that Esther was not beautiful. What was beautiful was her deeds. A person can have a beautiful personality and a terrible complexion. That doesn't mean that they are an ugly person. According to this view, why Achashverosh chose her as a wife was superrational. He wasn't interested in her good deeds and her fear of G-d. He only wanted a beautiful wife; but HaShem made a miracle that he should find her beautiful, even though if she went to a beauty contest she wouldn't have won the prize.
Both Esther and Mordechai were aware that even after fasting for three days, strengthening their spiritual bond with HaShem would be the only channel through which His blessing would come. They realized that going to the king was only a garment. Esther's real success was not dependent on what she said or how she looked, but whether HaShem was with her.
Parenthetically, that is also the reason that when we have to go on a very dangerous mission or an important meeting and there's a chance that we won't be successful, we don't necessarily have to go to a Dale Carnegie course to learn how to express ourselves better. The advice has always been to say a chapter of Tehillim before you go. Ask HaShem that your words find favor in the ears of the person that you have to speak to. Because that is ultimately what determines whether you'll be successful or not in your mission, whatever it might be.
Eating non-kosher food caused a weakening of the spiritual bond between the Yidden and HaShem, but through teshuvah they were able to create the vehicle for the miracle which overturned an extremely negative situation. Let this be a lesson for us.