“It isn’t fair,” whined the donkey to the ox. “While we exert ourselves, consistently and devotedly toiling for our master, the lazy pig gets the largest rations of feed.”
The ox advised the donkey to be patient. Sure enough, the day arrived when the swine was raked over the coals in preparation for its master’s dinner.
The Attribute of Justice voiced displeasure at the unfairness of it all. Haman had been a major player in thwarting the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash during the first year of the king’s reign and yet escaped punishment. God had consoled the Midas HaDin: Haman is an unknown – what lesson would the world derive? I will raise him to riches and infamy before bringing about his downfall – which will then be recognized far and wide as a Kiddush Hashem.
Haman’s rage at Mordechai’s rebuff was rooted in a previous confrontation. The two had served in the king’s army during Achashveirosh’s second year as sovereign when they were both assigned to guard duty in the city of Hindiki.
Haman, placed in charge of the west end, had exhausted his allotted funds and provisions prematurely, long before their 3-year stint was up, while Mordechai, guarding the east side prudently, kept his own troops in fine form. Haman had but one option if he was to survive: purchase the life-preserving supplies from Mordechai and to sell himself as servant to his benefactor in lieu of compensation. A contract drawn up between them – inscribed on Mordechai’s boot for lack of writing material – stipulated that Haman was to serve Mordechai for one day every week.
Eventually, as Haman rose in the ranks, he considered it beneath his station to work for Mordechai. In addition to flouting Haman’s demand from his subordinates to bow before him, Mordechai would remind Haman of his outstanding debt by sticking his boot out whenever their paths crossed, thereby igniting Haman’s fury.
Achashveirosh ruled over one hundred and twenty seven lands only in the merit of his future queen, Esther. For though the king’s dominion had dwindled to half due to his veto of the Holy Temple’s restoration, the still impressive number of territories was in direct correspondence to Sara Imeinu‘s years, all of which the matriarch had spent faithfully serving her Maker. Queen Esther, who emulated her virtuous predecessor, was divinely awarded the distinction of presiding over 127 provinces.
Haman cast lots to arrive at the precise time of year that would suit his wicked plot. But when he set about surveying the stars, fortune seemed to frown on him:
The sign of the lamb for the month of Nissan bode meritoriously for the Jewish nation who sacrificed the Korban Pesach. The Mazal Shor, the bull of Iyar, followed suit in likewise manner.
Teumim, the twins of Sivan, symbolized the merit of Yehudah’s twin righteous sons, Zorach and Peretz. Leo of Av held strong in the merit of Daniel, while Virgo of Elul signified the purity of Chananya, Mishael and Azarya who had served Hashem with flawless faith by remaining completely clean of idolatry.
The scales signifying the month of Tishrei tilted in favor of Iyov whose good deeds were ultimately proven to outweigh his iniquities. Yechezkiel saved the month of Cheshvanby reprimanding the Jewish inhabitants and thus keeping the scorpions at bay.
Mazal Keshes, representing the bow of Kislev, over which Yosef HaTzaddik held sway by overpowering his yetzer hora and becoming the most powerful force in Egypt, was definitely not in the running for Haman’s depravity.
The goat of Tevet took a stubborn stance in merit of Yaakov Avinu who covered his arms with the hairy skins of the animal to win the blessings of his father – while the sign of the water-bearer, or deli, of chodesh Shevat shimmered with the virtue of Moses who drew water up from the well for Tzippora the daughter of Yitro, later to become his wife.
Haman was gleeful with evil anticipation when he failed to find any merit for the Jewish people in the sign of the fish, the symbol of the month of Adar. The blessing proffered upon Ephraim and Menashe, the sons of Yosef, by their grandfather – Veyidgu larov bekerev haaretz – may they multiply like fish to become many in the midst of the earth – eluded the rasha.
Water, the element of the month, is symbolic of the living waters of Torah and conveys both modesty and humility.
In a village in Poland, an ordinary but enterprising Jewish innkeeper once leased both his lodge and a nearby lagoon from a Polish overlord. The rental fee for the small freshwater lake tallied with the catch of the day, or rather with half of it. If only one fish was caught, it was to be relinquished to the poritz.
The lessee and the lessor got along splendidly, the poritz content with his reliable and trustworthy tenant.
One erev Purim, Motke took his boat out on the calm water, hoping to hook a fish for the holiday. On this day, however, the sea creatures were especially adept at wriggling out of the net. As the hour grew late, just when a dispirited Motke was about to resign himself to having a Purim seudah sans seafood, he felt a sudden pull, and to his utter delight caught sight of a large, beautiful fish in his net.
“Thank you, Hashem, for not forsaking me,” murmured the fisherman, happily steering his fishing vessel back to shore. But his euphoria was short-lived as realization dawned – the lone fish belonged to the poritz. And what need had the landowner for fish on this particular day? Certainly not for a Purim feast!
Motke resolved his inner conflict by deciding that, in honor of Purim, he would not part with his prized catch but would make it up to his landowner by repaying him double on his next fishing expedition.
The delicious odor of the succulent fish cooking to perfection did not escape the nostrils of Motke’s neighbor. The busybody promptly set out to the landowner to inform him of Motke’s impropriety.
Poor Motke was duly fetched to face an incensed poritz. “It’s true,” Motke confessed. “I did keep the fish. But I had no intention of deceiving you.” An earnest Motke then launched into a discourse on the Purim festivities.
“And how is this all relevant to me?” interjected the poritz.
Motke elucidated on the mitzvah of having a Purim seudah and inviting guests and the less privileged to partake of the meal – an exalted feast in which fish played an integral role. Even the month of Adar was symbolized by fish – Mazal Dagim.
“And what is this “Mazal Dagim?” asked the poritz.
“Every month has its mazal. And just like the fish have their eyes always open, so are the eyes of God forever focused on His people, protecting us from the Hamans and all of our enemies.
“Since, as luck would have it, my net yielded only one fish today, I figured God must have sent it my way for the Purim feast and that I would make it up to you by giving you the entire catch of the day after Purim.”
The poritz was mollified. “I’ll let you off the hook this time, but the next time you fail to consult me, you will live to regret it!”
Soon thereafter at a conference of prominent landowners, the business at hand turned, naturally, to the subject of “the Jews.” One poritz spoke of a Jewish merchant who had acquired property at a “near-steal” deal; another contributed his encounter with Motke and his fish, and on and on.
Before long it was unanimously agreed that all Jewish innkeepers be expelled. A document drawn up on the spot decreed that all workers of Jewish descent be divested of their livelihood, and the convening pritzim wasted no time stepping in line to affix their signatures to it.
As the first poritz came forward to do his part in expediting the vicious proclamation, a newcomer appeared at the door – a nobleman larger than life and dressed to the nines. His sudden presence commanded attention, and the pritzim greeted their compatriot with enthusiasm and with the utmost respect, befitting a man of such obvious grace and stature.
The freshly minted document was straightaway produced and the newcomer urged to accept the honor of being the first to endorse it.
“What foolishness!” he scolded the pritzim. “For mere nuances you determine to dismiss your Jewish tenants? Have you deluded yourselves into believing that you will easily replace them? Who will better serve you? In place of diligence, you will find drunkenness! Instead of dedication, you will be rewarded with foolery! There is no more dependable worker than the Jew!”
As he concluded his admonition, the imposing figure methodically tore the document to shreds, bid the dumbfounded landowners adieu and took his leave.
Who was he? They all shared the same thought, each hesitant to give voice to his naivet?. Most embarrassed was the poritz who had been prepared to dis
pose of his loyal fisherman. Who was this man who had rescued him from such folly? Turning to the poritz standing closest to him, he hesitantly confessed his ignorance.
“To be truthful, I was about to ask you the same” came the awkward revelation.
The question now made the rounds among all the landowners, yet not one had a clue as to the identity of the strapping fellow. No one had in fact ever laid eyes on him before.
“Remember when you spoke to me of Mazal Dagim? Motke’s poritz later asked his leaseholder. “You had remarked that your God’s eyes are all-seeing. I believe I saw Him“
A smiling Motke enlightened the poritz. “You couldn’t have seen our God. But from your description of the regal attire, his purple overcoat, it was unquestionably none other than Mordechai, the hero of our megilla. In merit of our observance and celebration of the Purim miracle, he came to save us from catastrophe. The Mazal Dagim didn’t let us down.”
* * *
Mordechai had a dream. The world was in chaos, the spine-chilling rumble of thunder in the skies deafening. A fear enveloped and shook all of earth’s inhabitants as two gargantuan serpents wrangled with one another. The blood-curdling cries of the warring reptiles had the multitudes flee for safety. One small nation found itself abruptly surrounded by all the others and threatened with annihilation. The light in the universe dimmed, the skies darkened. The besieged souls screamed in anguish and pleaded with God to save them.
A narrow channel of water surfaced between the two furiously feuding snakes – gradually widening and separating the warriors and putting an end to their fierce fighting. The small body of water grew into a river that flowed and surged to all corners of the earth. Light suffused the world again as sunlight bathed the atmosphere and the small nation emerged mighty and strong. All the other nations diminished in size, and peace reigned throughout the world.
The Torah cried and the angels wept. The sun and the moon were overcome with sorrow. Eliyahu Hanavi hastened to Moshe Rabbeinu. “How can you rest while your children are endangered? The entire constellation and all of heaven and earth along with the angels are wailing to God on behalf of your children and all you do is stay on the sidelines? You, their devoted shepherd, who saved them more than once in your day.”
Moses inquired, “Is there a righteous soul on earth who could pray from below while we intercede from above?” Indeed there was. Mordechai HaTzaddik amassed 12,000 young kohanim, each outfitted with a shofar in his right hand and a Torah scroll in his left, to lead their people in passionate prayer and repentance.
Pisces, the symbol for the month of Adar and the last sign in the zodiacal wheel, personifies man’s capacity to transform physicality to spirituality.
Most striking in the story of Purim is its naturally occurring sequence of events. Yet one could hardly label any of the unfolding episodes as “unexceptional.” How feasible, for instance, is it that a king would demand his queen to appear naked in public?
And so the stage was set . . . for Queen Esther to step into her royal role and carry out her divinely-ordained mission. For behind the act of every raging Haman spewing hatred and venom to make man shudder is the Grand Orchestrator Himself. As God wills it, so it shall be.
Whether for better or worse is entirely up to His people. He watches and waits patiently for His children to come out of their spiritual lethargy, to thirst for the waters of Torah, to take a cue from the fish of the sea and tread the humble path, so that they will be deserving of His divine and personal intervention.
The power to determine the outcome of world events lies not with presidents or kings or prime ministers. The mastery is ours and lies within the hearts of each of us.
“Mimchon shivto hishgiach el kol yoshvei haaretz” says the Psalmist. “From His dwelling place He oversees all of earth’s inhabitantsHe Who fashions their hearts and comprehends all their deeds” (Tehillim 33:14,15).
“Hinei ayin Hashem el yerayov – Behold, the eye of Hashem is on those who fear Him” (Tehillim33:18).
Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.