Anyone who has ever thought deeply about the Book of Esther, noticed that the miracle of Purim seems a little strange. Examining the Megilla’s plot, we see a picture of amazing coincidences that rescued the Jewish people from the Persian ‘Final Solution’ in the fourth century BCE. No meteor fell directly on the palace of Ahasuerus and no lightning made a direct hit on Haman the Agagite while he was looking for a tree appropriate for Mordechai’s size — nothing we could call a “real” miracle. Just a sequence of ordinary events, that in special timing had Haman hanging from the top of the tree, and put Mordechai into the armchair in the glorious Persian “Ministry of Finance” office.
The Book of Esther consisted of a sequence of dozens of events, with each, in itself, seemingly unimportant. Only the combination of all parts into one pot was able to create the intoxicating brew that we call Purim. This event unfolding on the world stage was a new kind of miracle. Until then, G-d’s Providence was open, involving public miracles that were visible to all, and that used the element of prophecy. But with the destruction of the Temple, a new era of ‘concealment’ began, in which divine processes took place below the surface and under the guise of fixed natural laws.
This case was only the first one hinting how divine intervention would take place in the world from now on. Not for nothing was this scroll called “The Book of Esther.” Its meaning can be seen in its very name, which means uncovering the concealment [hester] in everyday life. Many miracles occur even today, only they occur under the guise of’ dry statistics and regular events, and seem sporadic. A random chain of facts with “a standard deviation” which suddenly causes unusual results.
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Here, for example, is a story from our times, which without a doubt explains how G-d does miracles in the twenty-first century.
A plane was on its way to Antwerp, and had about a hundred passengers. Among the passengers was the Pittsburgh Rebbe with eight of his students. They were going to the wedding of the son of one of the Rebbe’s followers. Apart from the rabbi and his students, there were no other Torah observant Jews on the plane.
The flight started without incident and proceeded smoothly, but suddenly the pilot announced that the plane had insufficient fuel, and they had to land and refuel at a small airport. The airport was deserted and remote, and was designed for internal flights only. All the passengers got off the plane, including the rabbi and his students, who began to look for an out of the way place where they could pray the afternoon prayer quietly.
The Rebbe approached the counter and asked the airport receptionist to please open up a side room so that he and his entourage could pray without disturbance. The receptionist was shocked and turned pale.
Then he recovered and replied: “I am ready to fulfill your request, but on one condition: let me say Kaddish in memory of my father… “
“Are you Jewish?” asked the Rebbe.
“Yes,” he replied. “I do not know any Jews who live in this part of Belgium. May I ask what you are doing here?”
“The truth is that I wanted to ask you the same question,” replied the rabbi. “You’re exactly the tenth person that we needed to have a minyan (quorum of ten men)!”
“I am afraid you won’t believe my story… ” the man began, ” but I promise you, Rabbi, it’s the truth. I said goodbye to my family many years ago and I ran away to this small town. Although I come from a very orthodox family, I am not observant for decades. All this time, I did not say Kaddish in memory of my father, who passed away in the meantime.
“Last night my father appeared to me in a dream and said, ‘Yankel, tomorrow is the anniversary of my death, and I want you to say Kaddish in my memory!’
“‘But Dad’, I protested, ‘to say Kaddish you have to have a minyan, and I’m the only Jew in the whole town. There is no way I could find a minyan anywhere nearby!’
“’Do not worry Yankel, I’ll get you a minyan,’ my father replied.
“After waking up from the dream,” the man related, “I was shaken for a few minutes. But then I came back to myself and thought it was just a meaningless dream. Beyond that, the very idea was ridiculous. How would a minyan of Jews come to such a remote farming town?!”
An amazing coincidence or a guiding hand behind it? You choose… the story can be explained as a natural happening, on the one hand, but on the other, it also shows a guiding hand that is pulling the strings.
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Here is another story, published in the Israeli press a few years ago.
A Jewish resident in the United States went into his car to go to work. He traveled over an hour, until he noticed something strange — this time there was very little traffic on the road. In fact, there was so little traffic that he suspected something was wrong.
Due to his long-time habit of listening to Torah tapes when traveling, he hadn’t listened to the radio since entering the car. His discomfort intensified when he noticed that for a few minutes already he was alone on the road, a road which was usually bustling with vehicles. He turned on the radio and discovered he had good reason to worry — a fierce snow storm was rapidly approaching the area which would block all traffic for several days. He pressed down on the accelerator because he needed at least two hours to reach his destination. He debated whether to move forward, hoping the would reach his destination, or whether it would be best to get off on the nearest highway exit, and look for a small hotel where he could stay for the next two days.
The winds began to whip the air, and after a few minutes, snowflakes began to fall first. He now knew that he must immediately find a place to stay, otherwise he will find himself stuck in his car deep in the snow. A thin layer of white snow had already begun to pile up on his car, and travelling was becoming more difficult by the minute. He turned into the first exit, and began to look for any habitation. The snow was pummeling the ground and vision was getting worse and worse. He strained his eyes to see through the frost and snow raging outside, which covered the windows of the car in seconds.
Suddenly, he noticed a single, large structure at the side of the road. He turned his car toward the street leading to the structure. The vehicle moved a few meters, and then got stuck in the snow. That was it. He could not go any further. Having no choice, he went out in the cold and started walking in the fierce wind, which coated his face with frozen snowflakes. He could feel his body heat dropping and feared that he would freeze. After a few minutes of walking he finally reached the building. “Nursing home” was engraved on a modest plaque. He knocked on the door tightly, hoping someone would answer the call.
“Who’s there?” someone asked at the door.
“Do me a favor, I got stuck in the snow. Please open the door.”
The door opened, and a grim-looking man stood in front of him, “I’m sorry, but we have no room for you,” he said. “If you want, you can stay here in the lobby and sleep on the couch.” The hall was very cold, and the thought of having to spend the next two days in this cold, made him literally shudder.
After about an hour in the bitter cold, he went to the office and knocked softly on the door. The door opened and the stern man stood in the doorway.
“Maybe you have a spare room?” he asked. “I’m willing to pay a lot of money. Please take into account my situation.”
“Look,” the man replied, “Yesterday one of our patients died. He was childless, and the truth is that we haven’t yet cleared out his belongings. If you want, you can sleep in his bed, ” he muttered reluctantly.
Did he have another choice? He entered the room hesitantly. The thought of sleeping in the bed of a man who died last night, didn’t make him feel too good. On the little table still lay the man’s books. At a glance he saw, to his astonishment, that one of the books was a Mishnayos. “This mysterious patient was a Jew,” he thought to himself. “Who knows where they will bury him. I have to find out right away.”
He returned to the office and knocked on the door again. The stern man angrily opened the door, this time losing his patience. “What do you want now?” he asked.
“Is the tenant who died last night already buried?” he immediately asked.
“Not yet,” the director replied. “When the weather improves, we will transfer the body to the nearest church, where according to law they bury all the dead who are unclaimed.”
He shuddered. A Jew about to be buried in a Christian cemetery? G-d forbid! I can not let that happen. Who knows if I didn’t end up here for this reason, he thought. “I’ll take care of his burial,” he surprised the man facing him. “The deceased was a Jew and he must have a Jewish burial,” he said emphatically.
“I don’t care what you do with him, you must deal with the legal authorities in this area, since by law, as I said, this case automatically passes to the nearest church authority.”
Two days later, when the storm finally calmed, he went to attend to the burial of the unknown Jew. He had no idea what steps he had to take, but he prayed to G-d to help him in his efforts.
He asked a friend where the nearest Jewish cemetery was. Then he contacted the management of the cemetery and asked if they could bury an unclaimed person, who had no one to buy him a plot. He found out that the cemetery had a small patch designed exactly for such cases.
Then he turned to the local church, and after proving his sincerity of intention, they agreed to approve the release of the body. He loaded the coffin in the back seat of his car, and drove to the Jewish cemetery which was a few hours away. All the way he did not stop to think about the unusual cargo in the back seat…
When he arrived at the cemetery, he went to the main office and asked the administrator to organize a proper burial. The manager asked him for the deceased’s documents and his ID. After submitting them to him, the manager looked at the picture and the name of the deceased, and his mouth dropped open.
After he recovered, the cemetery manager told him: “A few years ago, a person who I had never met before came to the cemetery. He looked handsome and dignified, and after we became acquainted a few minutes, he suddenly pulled out a large sum of money and said, “Look here, I have a nice amount of money, and I want to do with it something unusual. I want this money to be set aside to make a section for people who died childless and lonely and who passed away without anyone knowing them. This amount of money will go for all the needs of their funeral and their burial place.”
“With the money, we prepared ten graves, and to this day we have used only one of the plots in this section. This man in your documents is the one who donated the plot.” He added, “As soon as I saw the picture on the certificate, I recognized his face, and when I saw his name, I knew immediately that it indeed was him. The One Who supervises all that occurs in this world didn’t want this person to receive a Christian burial, G-d forbid, so He arranged to send you to the desolate place where his body was lying, and bring him to the place that he himself had prepared for himself… “
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Such intervention does not require a change in the laws of nature. It arranges things so that everything will look like the normal state of affairs. Each step in the aforementioned event happened “by chance”, but an unexpected interaction of the puzzle pieces, brings the wonderful and incomprehensible result.
In response to Moshe’s request to see G-d, G-d replied, “You can not see My face, for no man can see my face and live… you can see My back but My Face you can not see” (Exodus 23:20). Of course, G-d has no body or physical dimensions. Moses wanted to ‘see’ — to perceive — the ways of G-d and His interactions with His creations. The answer he received was that with our limited understanding, we are not able to understand events as they happen. Only with hindsight, from “the back”, can we understand what happened in the past, and understand G-d’s infinite wisdom.
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A central theme in the plot described in the Book of Esther is “a sudden reversal”. Everything that seemed at first like a misfortune, turned out in the end to be divine providence. There were miracles, which, unlike those described in the Bible, came disguised as a series of coincidences, natural occurrences, and random events. However, in reality they are the product of divine intervention in human affairs.
The name Purim itself comes from the word pur — a lot. Some call sweepstakes a game of “luck” — because the winner is determined randomly, unexpectedly and without any rational basis. Faith, however, helps us understand that in a world dominated by an all-seeing G-d, there is no blind fate. Fate is much more than luck — it means the Master of the universe decides the outcome, while continuing to hide behind the curtains.
Purim is a holiday that deals with what people call “coincidences”. It reminds us that a series of coincidences are just G-d’s way of staying anonymous.
The Purim story includes many miracles. Not the kind of miracles that overpower the laws of nature, but miracles that happen far more frequently in our lives. Miracles that we so often ignore, because G-d chooses not to scream, but to whisper. We must adjust ourselves to His quiet and gentle voice, and to identify Him when He turns a disaster into a blessing.