I’d like to take a look at a fascinating midrash in Esther Rabba 10:5. The midrash begins by stressing the reversal of fortunes in Chapter 6, as Haman contemplates the contrast between his intentions and the reality unfolding before him: “I was fixing you a cross, while God was fixing you a crown. I was preparing ropes and nails, and God was preparing a kingly robe. I had come to ask of the king to hang you, and he told me to drive you around on a horse.” Then, the narrative picks up in a polyphonic performance:
“As soon as he began to ride, [Mordechai] praised God:
“ארוממך ה' כי דליתני ולא שמחת אויבי לי. ה' אלהי שועתי אליך ותרפאני, ה' העלית משאול נפשי, חייתני מירדי בור”
And what did his students say?
“זמרו לה' חסידיו והודו לזכר קדשו, כי רגע באפו חיים ברצונו, בערב ילין בכי ולבוקר רנה.”
What did the rasha [Haman] say?
“ואני אמרתי בשלוי בל אמוט לעולם, ה' ברצונך העמדתה להררי עוז, הסתרת פניך הייתי נבהל.”
What did Esther say?
“אליך ה' אקרא ואל אדני אתחנן מה בצע בדמי ברדתי אל שחת היודך עפר היגיד אמתך.”
What did Knesset Yisrael say?
“שמע ה' וחנני וגו' הפכת מספדי למחול לי וגו”
And what did Ruach Hakodesh say?
“למען יזמרך כבוד ולא ידום ה' אלהי לעולם אודך”
The midrash ends with Haman’s daughter – leaning out the window, she saw the shame of her father leading Mordechai and plunged to her death.
This incident had always felt a little strange to me, a bright spot of playing dress-up in an otherwise initially grim arc. The midrash is located in the midpoint of the dramatic action of the Purim story: Esther has yet to throw her party, the fast and mourning are still in effect, and the future is very unclear. Right before he changes into glorious robes and a sparkling crown, Mordechai is most likely sitting, praying in his sackcloth and with ashes scattered on his head. The verdict of a mass murder of the Jews hangs in the air. And in the very middle, a spectacular ונהפוך הוא occurs. But as we read the midrash we realize that this is no simple costume change:
Haman notices that something unusual is occurring. His first two observations are ones about a divinely-arranged switcheroo, with God directly getting this “costume” ready for Mordechai. His final observation, now related to the little king down below, is almost like a small memo about how this divine plan is being carried out in the court. Later on, he identifies his own mistake: “I said in my tranquility that I would not falter. You raised me as though atop a mountain with strength. You hid Your face, and I was afraid.”
The Jews here experience this reversal too, and their reaction is full of hope and praise. They have a keen awareness of their dire situation – it isn’t easy to ignore all the mentions of misery, deep pits, fear, and mourning. Yet in the same breath they also anticipate an answer. Moreover, it is a collective experience: not only Esther and Mordechai express their prayers, but Mordechai’s students and Knesset Israel join in. And the Ruach Hakodesh responds, picking up the thread of the what the students had called for earlier – זמרו לה חסידו– and the spirit of dancing,מָחוֹל, with למען יזמרך כבוד ולא ידום ה' לעולם אודך.
There is much that can be explored in this midrash, but I think one of the elements that makes it so powerful is that not only does it sing with faith and praise, but it does so in a place that is only a clue, a mock-up, of what is to come. This realization dawns on Haman as well, though of course it does not turn him to prayer, but only emphasizes for him the fragility of his honor and power. The midrash presents a moment that is the very opposite of קרי: here is an opportunity to see Hashem in the Purim story, to glimpse in the midst of fasting and mourning that salvation will come.
May we all merit to rejoice this Purim, to find that even in the darkest of times there are hints of light, and may we join our voice to the chorus of am Israel in song.שיעורים נוספים ניתן למצוא בקטגוריות הבאות: חגים (פורים)
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