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Parshas Ki Sisa: ‘Don’t Panic’

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Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal sees the Purim story as a sort of rectification for the sin of the Golden Calf. In contrast to other enemies of Israel, at the time of Purim there was a tremendous upheaval that came about without warning.

For example, when Nebuchadnezzar approached and his armies headed towards Jerusalem, the prophet Yermiyahu warned the nation repeatedly of the impending doom that would befall them if they did not repent. Although the false prophets claimed Jerusalem would not fall, when the enemy surrounded the city the people could not say they had not been forewarned.

The Jewish people in Shushan on the other hand, could not have imagined that a decree would be passed slating them for annihilation. It was simply unfathomable. They had good relationships with their neighbors. They had gone to the king’s feast together and celebrated in unison. Then, suddenly, without warning, an order was passed “to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all the Jews, from young to old, children, and women”.

If the Jewish people would have despaired at that point we could not have blamed them. There indeed seemed to be no hope. However, at that point they displayed uncanny determination and resolve; they did not despair and they did not panic. They did not send a delegation to try and convince Achashveirosh or Haman to rescind the decree. Their only response was to gather together and implore G-d for mercy.

The truth is that this idea played an even deeper role vis-à-vis the miracles of Purim. When one analyzes the events of the Megillah a beautiful tapestry and pattern emerges, with each part of the story segueing to the next part. Achashveirosh makes a party, becomes drunk, kills Vashti, Esther becomes Queen, Haman becomes Prime Minister, is consumed by hubris and then with rage when Mordechai refuses to bow to him, builds a gallows, and eventually ends up being hung on his own gallows.

There is one part of the story which does not seem to fit with the whole pattern –why was it necessary for Haman to lead Mordechai through the streets of Shushan? It is a great addendum to the story, but it does not seem at all necessary for Haman’s ultimate demise.

The Gemara relates that Haman had an incredible power of persuasion. He was extremely eloquent and influential and in his wily manner was able to convince almost anyone that his point of view was correct. Even after Haman had been condemned by the king he should have been able to talk his way out of trouble. Why did Haman not “work his magic” to bail himself out?

The Chasam Sofer explains that Haman was destroyed because of “behala” – panic and a lack of equanimity! The parade was extremely unnerving for Haman, not to mention humiliating. His disgrace and misery was further compounded by his daughter’s death after she dumped the contents of the family’s chamber pot on his head. After the party Haman returned home with the hope of showering and changing for the second party. But suddenly the King’s guards stormed in and whisked him away. From that point on the events continued to move at a maddening pace. Before Haman could say a word in his own defense he was being led to the gallows he had built in a state of total defeat and disillusionment.

The irony is that while Haman was destroyed by behala, the Jewish people were saved because they did not succumb to it!

The Jews of Shushan espoused that intellect must rise above confusion, and one’s soul must not be shattered by panic. However, their repentance was not complete. One of the reasons given for not reciting Hallel on Purim is that, “We are still servants of Achashveirosh”. Although the nation overcame the initial feelings of panic and despair, we are still plagued by such emotions. In that sense we are still servants to Achashveirosh.

Purim reminds us that we must always maintain our perspective and remember that there is a rhyme and reason to all that occurs.

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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