Mordechai and Haman – The Same?

By Rabbi Baruch Epstein


Talmud (Megila 7b) instructs one to become so inebriated on Purim so as not to be capable of distinguishing between accursed Haman and Blessed Mordechai.

Torah does not speak in hyperbole or make a grandiose statement for mere shock appeal, even the sichas chuiln  (simple discussion) of our scholars is worthy of study (Sukkah 21b), so why create a standard that violates the ethos of Torah. Do we not spend our lives distinguishing between, sanctified and ordinary, light and dark and Shabbos and weekday? (text of havdalah). Why do we hope to abandon this practice and especially on Purim when we highlight the victory of Mordechai over Haman?!

When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880-1920) the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe arrived in the USA – 9 Adar II 5700 – his close friends hoped to ease his transition into the new world by assuring him that they would provide him a yeshiva and a shul and a familiar place to live out his life, as then they gently explained that Chassidus and orthodoxy would just not make it here in America; America is different. America is different than the shtetel and different than Europe and different in its treatment of our people. Here we can be free, in America we can succeed, in America we can thrive.

The Rebbe defiantly declared: “America is not different!” And he set out to assure that Torah and Chassidus would thrive in this new land. And here we are 75 years later and America is, in fact, a Torah community with more yeshivas, shuls, and Torah observance than almost anywhere outside of Eretz Yisroel!

But is America not different? Wasn’t the difference of America what brought the Rebbe and so many thousands of surviving Jews from the destruction of Europe to its shores? Is America’s stark differences not what makes it unique in Jewish history – a place where one can be free to express one’s faith without fear of government-sanctioned violence – America seems quite different?!

Perhaps the insight lies not in the historical comparison of the USA and European law or culture or its treatment of Jews, rather in the analysis of the perspective of the tzadik and how he sees the world.

To me, and I imagine most of the readers, our day is a composite of chores and activities – running from minyan to carpool to work to the grocery store hoping to squeeze a few minutes of Torah study somewhere along the line. We look forward to Shabbos so we can daven more meaningfully and learn Torah more intensely (and the food’s not bad either). And immediately after the havdalah candle is extinguished is tzurik tzu der verl un tzurik tzu der gelt – back to work and back to material concerns, and round and round it goes.

Imagine though, the perspective of the tzadik, he sees kedusha in all matter. B’chol darchecha da’eihu (Mishlei 3:6) in all “your” ways know Him – he sees Hashem in the grocery like he sees Hashem in shul, each Tuesday morning is as sanctified as Yom Kippur.

So while the safety of America is why the tzadik relocates, the spiritual challenges and assignments remain unchanged. We are Jews in Europe, we are Jews in America, we are Jews in good times and Jews in hard times, in who we are and what we do there’s no difference between there and here – wherever we are we serve Hashem with enthusiasm.

A friend of mine, a successful businessman, was asked to address a group of young professionals about living in the two worlds of Torah and business; he asked what for some ideas of what he might speak about. I suggested he reject the premise – he doesn’t live in “two” worlds – he’s a Jew in shul and a Jew in his business – he serves Hashem when he davens and he serves Hashem when he’s at his parnosah. Hashem echad – means that Hashem is Everywhere and Everything and I am (or at least strive to be) cognizant of that at all times.

Purim is a holy day – a time when Hashem is evident in the ordinary – when we need not mention His name because His Presence is so obvious. It’s an upside-down time, when sadness becomes joy and mourning celebration – and when Haman can become Mordechai. When apparent curse becomes blessings, when enemies become friends when tragedy is revealed as triumph when what appears bad is seen as good. When we see Hashem in Everything – even in Haman

Now let’s be blunt – this seems idealistic yet unattainable. As a wise man once said “in theory there’s no difference between the theoretical and the practical but in practice, there’s a huge difference;” so how can mere mortals struggling with life’s annoyances be expected to see a blessing and a bruising indistinguishably? This is more than “in the end its all good and if it isn’t good it isn’t the end” – this is: “no difference between an all-time hero and an all-time villain!!”

Simply stated the answer is no – we don’t usually expect this; its not a reasonable conclusion, quite frankly one has to be drunk out of his mind to think so – or more delicately we have to leave our analytical thinking behind, abandon our critical constructs and find a new way of seeing the facts before us. Wisdom and scholarship are our greatest gifts and sometimes they have to be put aside for the irrational, super-rational perception of Hashem in all matter.

Drunkenness need not come from a bottle – the Talmud tells us that when wine goes in the secrets come out (Eruvin 65A) – wine is buried in the grape and must be squeezed out – the hidden G-dliness is often buried under layers of troubles and must be mined like gold. We must be megaleh (reveal) the Esther (hidden); find Hashem where He is anonymous.

Purim uniquely offers this opportunity, a chance to go to the depth of what appears to be a series of coincidences and fortuitous good luck and find Hashem where no one else can. Purim allows us – at least temporarily – to disguise ourselves as the tzadik who sees no difference between war-torn destruction and peaceful shores. The hidden nature of the Purim miracle offers this opportunity more profoundly than more evidently G-dly miracles. When oil last 8 days the G-dliness is apparent, when the sea splits no faith is required, when Hashem’s name is hidden we are invited to find it everywhere.

So let’s take the challenge and see Hashem where He is hidden in our lives and our neighbor’s lives, in our offices and kitchens too and let’s make the world know they are all integral to the plan.


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