Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Adar 5759 - Feb 24, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
Jewish History
by R. Kantrowitz

"History, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools." (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary)

19th Century American writer and journalist, Ambrose Bierce, paints for us a popular, albeit cynical, picture of history through the eyes of the Western world. How do the Jews view history?

Why is Megillas Esther called Megillas Esther? Well, you are not going to call it Megillas Cleopatra, are you? True enough. How about Megillas Mordechai? He was at least as much of a hero in the story as was Esther, designing and executing the plan that led to the Jewish redemption. At least be fair and give them equal billing: "Megillas Mordechai and Esther" (or "Megillas Esther and Mordechai"). Why just Esther?

"Where is Esther found in the Torah? Ve'onochi hesteir astir es Ponai bayom hahu (I will certainly hide My Face on that day)" (Zevochim 139a). The root of the name Esther is "hidden." Hashem will, at certain periods of history, appear to be "hiding His Face" and not watching.

The story of the miracle of Purim is a chronicle of one of those periods: Haman, the archenemy of the Jews, was given carte blanche to do with the Jews as he saw fit. The prospects were grim, Haman's desire was genocide -- "(he) sought to destroy, to slay, to exterminate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, on the same day." Only the teshuvah of the Jews averted the disaster and turned the tables.

Hashem was not truly hiding His Face; when the Jews looked for Hashem, Hashem looked for the Jews. Yet, the concept of hiddenness is the central theme of the Megilla and therefore it is expressed in the title: Megillas Esther.

Purim, the festival of masks, celebrates the ability of the Jews throughout history to see behind the mask of "nature" to observe the "hand" of Hashem. Even in the darkest period of history when it appeared that Hashem was certainly "hiding His Face" this becomes clear. Indeed, Julius Streicher (responsible for the venomous, antisemitic periodical Der Stuermer filled with vicious statements, hauntingly reminiscent of Haman's genocidal plot, such as: "Now judgment has begun and it will reach its conclusion only when knowledge of the Jews has been erased from the earth."), one of the most notorious of the Nazi war criminals hung at Nuremberg, illustrated this with his cryptic last words -- "Purim Fest 1946." The international press recorded the event, but had no explanation for it.

Only the Jewish People recognized the true significance of that historical event: "Ten sons of Haman were hanged in Shushan; the eleventh cheated the hangman by committing suicide. Ten Nazi war criminals were hanged at Nuremberg; the eleventh, Herman Goering, cheated the hangman by committing suicide" ("Megillas Esther and the Nuremberg Trial," by Nosson M. Munk, The Jewish Observer, March 1986, pp. 56- 57). The "Purim Fest 1946" to which Julius Streicher unwittingly gives witness, declares that Hashem is the true Author of history "turning the tables" on the wicked, allowing them to "dig their own graves."

"He turns their violence against them, and destroys them with their own wickedness. Hashem, our G-d, destroys them" (Psalm 94:23). Only the Jews recognize that Hashem is always watching and that "nature" is merely a mask, and that "history" is merely the stage on which Hashem "directs" the actors of His dramas in this world.

The Megillas Esther teaches us the eternal lesson that "history" is not "an account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools." Rather, a true account (when told by the Sages) of exceedingly significant events, brought about by the King of Kings, Hashem, and the Jewish soldiers of His Divine Will, mostly wise and righteous!

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