The Megillah is the ultimate Great Plot. Really. It has all the ingredients of The Good Novel – suspense, treachery, and the intervention of a Hidden Hand — never mentioned, but always felt, behind the curtain, pulling the puppet strings.
Imagine the Jews of Shushan as they watched the political situation grow more and more precarious, until their Queen, their beloved Esther – one of them — turns her back on her people and invites Haman to join her and the King for an intimate dinner party. And then, when the King offers her anything, up to half of his kingdom, as a token of his tremendous love, instead of begging for the lives of her fellow-Jews lives, she invites the king to come the following day for another dinner party, together with her nation’s arch-enemy, Haman.
Had I been there, in Shushan, I would have been beyond fury. How dare she? Our nation had suffered so much. Just two generations before the Purim story, we were living in our own land, serving the Almighty in the Bais Hamikdash, connecting intimately with Hashem. Then, with the destruction of the Temple, we were exiled to Babel, and, to add insult to injury, with the collapse of the Babylonian empire, we were exiled to Persia. Koresh raised our hopes up his plans to construct a Second Temple, but Achashverosh nixed it, and it would take another generation until Darius, Esther and Achashverosh’s son, would allow Jews who had settled in Israel under Ezra to build the Second Temple. Meanwhile, Achashverosh had set in motion is plan to annihilate – to destroy, to kill, and to obliterate – all the Jews throughout the 127 kingdoms of his rule. And instead of using her powerful position to help her people, Esther was enjoying herself at a dinner party with the enemy! What a traitor!
Things couldn’t appear worse. But, in truth, things couldn’t be better. And as we all know, our perspective became topsy-turvy, and the day that was started out as a day of tragedy, turned into Purim, a day of tremendous rejoicing.
The truth is, we don’t know nuttin’. With our myopic vision, what appears to be tragic is often the key to our salvation.
Several years ago, I heard Rabbi Neugershal tell the story of how two Czechoslovakian Jews succeeded in escaping Auschwitz. Among the first Jews deported to the camps, they had important positions in the camp offices, positions that provided them with access to documents containing statistics of the murders that were taking place.
Their escape plan was ingenious in its simplicity. In addition to the two main camps, the Birkenau- Auschwitz complex consisted of several smaller satellite camps. Each camp was surrounded by two heavily guarded electrified fences, while the enormous complex was surrounded by a lightly guarded fence. In case of an attempted escape, however, the outer fence was heavily manned and for three days an intensive search took place within the fenced in area. If, after three days, the escaped prisoners were not found, the search was called off and the fence was left unmanned.
The camp underground smuggled the two Czechoslovakian Jews out of the main camp by hiding them in a hollowed out space beneath a pile of logs, which were delivered to an area outside the camp, and inside the third, lightly guarded fence. The moment their escape was discovered, the Nazis began an all-out search, using specially trained dogs and thousands of soldiers to comb the area. But the men had managed to get hold of some kerosene, and spread it around the area to confuse the dogs.
On the third day, just before the search was about to be called off, two soldiers approached the pile of lumber where the Jews were hiding. “Maybe they’re hiding under those planks,” said one.
“Impossible,” replied the other. “The dogs were here, and they didn’t find them.”
“Perhaps they used some chemical to confuse the dogs,” said the first soldier.
With that, the two soldiers started removing the planks that were concealing the two Jews. They removed the top ten layers of planks. There was only one layer of planks separating them from the prisoners – only one thin layer of planks between the two men and the German soldiers.
The two Jews lay in their hiding place, shaking in fear. The worst had happened. They knew that torture, humiliation and death awaited them.
Suddenly, from afar, they heard the sound of people yelling and of dogs barking. “Sounds like they found the escapees,” said one of the soldiers. And with that, the two soldiers ran off.
The two Jews shook in relief.
Several hours later they heard the “All clear” sirens. Three days had gone by, and the search was off. As soon as it was dark, they would push the lumber off of their hiding place, climb out and slide under the fence separating them from freedom.
But they were so weak from the three days of fasting that they were incapable of pushing the lumber off of their hiding place! They tried – oh, and how they tried! – but they didn’t have the strength to move the planks. They were sure that their refuge would become their grave. Finally, after several hours of concerted effort, they managed to move the planks a few inches and crawl out from under the lumber.
Rabbi Neugershal pointed out that when the German soldiers were removing the planks, the escapees were positive that the end had come. They viewed it as a terrible tragedy. Only later did they realize that without the two German soldiers, they would have remained buried alive in the stack of lumber! The two German soldiers were Hashem’s tool for bringing about their freedom!
It was only later, in twenty-twenty hind-vision, that the Jews of Shushan realized that Esther’s apparent treason was, in reality, the key to their salvation. In our own private lives, as well as in our national, collective life, we cannot begin to fathom the full impact of the events around us. Apparent tragedy is often our redemption. Someday, we will realize that these keys were nothing more than Hashem’s tools to make our dream into a reality.
May all those dream be realized quickly, and in our days. Amen.
Debbie Shapiro is a widely published author and a longtime Jerusalem resident. Her latest book, Women Talk, is a compilation of interviews with great Jewish women — and all Jewish women are great! To read more of her articles or contact her for speaking engagements, please visit her blogspot, Debbie Shapiro of Jerusalem
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.