Ra’anana Community Kollel
Navigating the Maze
Rabbi Binyomin Lipson
When we look closely at the chronology of the Megilla, we see that the events depicted therein transpired over a nine year period beginning in the third year of the rein of King Achashverosh and ending in the twelfth. For this reason alone, only a person blessed with keen perceptive abilities would have been able to successfully discern the string that connected them. As is well known, Mordechai issued a ruling forbidding all Jews to attend the King’s banquet. However, many opposed his view. Clearly, a complete lack of recognition by the Jewish people to the King’s invitation was likely to place the entire community in mortal danger. It was certainly tenable that King Achashverosh would have taken great offence to their absence from his celebration, and the result could have simply proven disastrous. It was for this reason, his opponents claimed, that full participation was nothing short of a great mitzvah which would prevent harsh decrees and possibly even loss of life on a national scale, and it was with this motivation that they attended. Even after the fact, it seemed clear that their judgment was correct, and in fact Heaven seemed to testify to it, as in the years that followed the Jewish people lived in tranquility under the rein of a benevolent Achashverosh.
Nine years later, a strikingly similar scenario took place when the wicked Haman was promoted to a position of power and high authority. In his hunger for honor and prestige, Haman demanded that all subjects of the kingdom prostrate themselves in his presence. Yet, despite the facts that Jewish law clearly permitted this, as it did not involve even the slightest act of actual idolatry, and that compliance would surely avert grave danger to the entire community, Mordechai still refused to comply. Just as nine years earlier he had endangered the community by forbidding attendance at the King’s feast, Mordechai was again putting lives in danger with his blatantly unfounded legal stringency. As was the case nine years earlier, the logically correct course of action was clear to all, except one. As a result of his failure to cooperate, Mordechai opponents’ worst fears were realized, and apparently due to the lack of honor accorded to him by a senior Jewish official, Haman flew into a fury and undertook legal action to exterminate the nation whose leader had crossed him.
Had we lived during the time of the Purim story, which view would we have taken? Would we have followed Mordechai’s directives and supported his position despite our lack of understanding, or would we have let logic and clear thinking lead us to be numbered amongst those who opposed him? Would it not have been plain to us that the perilous situation which the Jews found themselves in was the direct result of the unbalanced reasoning of this one man? Could any right thinking person have attempted to contradict the obvious truth? However, the Truth was otherwise.
How could anyone have possibly known that Haman’s decree was the direct result of the community's failure to heed Mordechai's warning nine years earlier? Did the facts not clearly point to the contrary?
From the events of Purim we can see that the “facts” as we perceive them are often nothing more than an illusion presented to us to test our belief in the supernatural level of perception which the Almighty grants to those who truly fear him and obey his commands. When the nation saw the falsehood of their perception of the truth, and accepted Mordechai as the light of their eyes by answering his call of repentance and fasting, it was only then that Hashem brought about the miracles which led to their salvation. In our era as well we find many outwardly religious people claiming that tragedies arise through the errors in judgment of some of our greatest leaders. However, as in the days of Purim, the guilt lies not on our great leaders, whose level of understanding and purity of intentions in matters concerning the community are far beyond our ability to even contemplate, but rather on the shoulders of those who rebel against them and systematically undermine their authority.
The Torah teaches us that we must not stray from the words of our Sages “to the right or to the left.” Let us contemplate, to whom is such a command meant to be addressed? Certainly, not to those who agree with their conclusions! Rather, the Torah is clearly speaking to people whose own intellect has led them to a conclusion contrary to that of the Sages. When explaining this mitzvah, Rashi comments that the Torah is teaching us that we must follow the directives of the leaders of the generation even if they tell us that “left is right and right is left.” Why would the leaders of a generation ever do that? Of course they wouldn’t. However, with our own skewed logic and false reasoning we can sometimes get ourselves so turned around that we literally can’t tell which way we’re facing. Remember the amusement park funhouse with all those wacky mirrors? Sometimes you were sure that you were moving closer to the exit when in fact you were just getting yourself more and more lost. In the funhouse no one is one hundred percent sure of his judgment, and everyone knows that really he’s just as lost as everyone else. However, if you really get in trouble, there’s still one person that you can trust to get you out. The uniformed staff member who you see walking through from time to time knows the place like the back of his hand. Whenever you’ve had enough, just follow him and he’ll lead you straight out to the light of day. Often, you might be sure that even he doesn’t know where he’s going, but if you stick with him just little longer you’ll always see that you’re mistaken.
This scene doesn’t only take place in the funhouse, unless you’d like to call the world Hashem’s little funhouse. We all know that life is full of twists and turns and shortcuts that look just like dead ends. Sometimes you can be sure that you’re making the correct decision and yet, well, let’s just leave it at that. So how much more complex is it to have the responsibility of the future of the entire Jewish Nation of your shoulders? A lot. That’s why Hashem placed special leaders in every generation who would be capable of recognizing the correct path and directing all those who desire the truth to follow it. However, like in the funhouse, we can’t always see exactly why their way is the correct one. After all, if we could, then we wouldn’t need leaders, and since the Torah tells us that we do, well, that must mean that we won’t be able to figure out everything on our own.
There is an astounding Midrash which drives this point home in perhaps an even more powerful way. The Midrash (Shmot Rabbah 46:3) relates that at the time when Moshe descended from Mount Sinai and witnessed the Jewish people worshiping the golden calf he was immediately motivated to break the Tablets that Hashem had given him. Imagine if you were Aharon or one of the Elders who was there at the time. How would you have reacted? Remember, this wasn’t a Chumash, or even a Sefer Torah which was about to fall to the ground and shatter, these were the stone tablets that Hashem Himself engraved and gave to the Jewish people. Imagine that you’re in shul one morning and the person carrying the Torah trips and almost falls. How quickly would everyone present move to try and keep the Torah from falling to the ground? Now multiply that scenario by thousands. Moshe has finally descended from Mount Sinai with The Luchot, the actual stone tablets that Hashem gave to him, and upon seeing the Jewish people involved in idol worship is just about to break them. Obviously, everyone there tried to stop him from doing it. The Midrash relates that Aharon and the seventy Elders all lunged at Moshe when they saw what he was about to do and grabbed his arms in an attempt to prevent this catastrophe. However, the Midrash praises Moshe that even in the midst of the ensuing brawl that must have erupted he nevertheless succeeded in smashing the Luchot. Can we even begin to imagine the feelings of Aharon and the seventy Elders who were present at the time?
“You are wrong Moshe! Don’t Break the Luchot!” resound the panic stricken cries of the seventy one greatest Sages of all time, “You have no right!”
Nevertheless, despite the fact that every logical argument forbade it, Moshe persisted and broke the Tablets. How could he have done it? He wasn’t commanded to do it and he couldn’t prove that he was correct, but Moshe instinctively knew that this was what had to be done, and afterwards Hashem Himself attested to the validity of his actions. Moshe’s power to make such a decision did not stem from any logical inference. Rather, as the leader of that generation and the teacher of the Jewish people for all generations Moshe was guided by a sense of what was right for them which extended far beyond natural human capabilities. So too, in every generation Hashem ensures that we have leaders who can guide us through the most difficult times in our history and teach us what we need to do when we can’t find an answer in any book.
If there’s one profound and relevant lesson in the Purim story for our generation this could very well be it. Never have we needed the direction of our True Torah Sages as much as we do today, and perhaps never before in history did so many feel so strongly that we certainly don’t. However, the more we contemplate this lesson of the Megilla, the more we sensitize our hearts to our own natural imperfections and open our minds to accepting the authority and unified leadership which every nation needs to survive.
Adapted from Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol. I, p. 76,
explanation of the Midrash by
R’ Pam zt”l as told by R’ Y. Frand