A few weeks ago, an old friend called me to ask if I knew any good stories about someone who was in a very challenging situation, because of which he made a positive change in his life.
As I mulled over it, I realized afterwards that virtually all chesed organizations are started by individuals who have been in just a situation. After enduring a painful, traumatic, or unnerving ordeal they decided to ‘give back’ to the community by initiating an organization to help others.
For example, the local incredible Bikur Cholim organization of Rockland County with its many branches was founded by R’ Shimon Lauber when he survived a life-threatening illness.
But upon further reflection I related to my friend a different story:
There was a righteous woman who was married to a great tzaddik. In fact, her husband was the gadol hador. He was also a high-ranking government official and was widely respected for his sagacity and righteousness. Orphaned from both her parents before she was a day old, her eventual marriage to him was a dream come true.
Then one day, her life changed drastically. She was ordered to leave her husband to marry a vile and narcissistic idolatrous man. The fact that he was rich and powerful meant nothing to her. But her original husband impressed upon her that this was her mission and G-d had put her there for a reason which would be revealed in due time. And so Esther remained Queen, forfeiting her marriage to Mordechai in order to live in Achashveirosh’s palace away from her people.
The truth is that in a certain sense Esther’s life in the palace of Achashveirosh is symbolic of the life of the Jewish people in exile. When the Beis HaMikdash stood we were keenly aware of our ‘marriage’ to Hashem. We lived in close proximity of sanctity, the kohanim performed the avodah, and the sanhedrin guided our every move.
In exile however, we are isolated and surrounded by a culture that does not ascribe to Torah values. We are surrounded by foreign practices and ideologies, and it is a constant struggle to maintain our customs and stay true to the ways of our ancestors. In this exile particularly, we have been blessed with prosperity and comfort and the challenge has only increased.
In the beloved song “Shoshanas Yaakov” we declare “Blessed is Esther (for what she did) on my behalf.” Esther demonstrated to us that one can remain faithful even when surrounded with immorality and idolatry if one remains committed and faithful to his/her convictions. Like Esther our one overriding concern must always be “If I have found favor in your eyes, O king.” All else is trivial and secondary. If we have found favor in His eyes then we have maintained our dignity and glory.
Life does not always proceed as planned. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that life generally does not proceed as we planned. The challenge is to always try to consider what it is that Hashem wants of us at any given moment and in any given situation, and to do our best to live up to the challenge. Perhaps there was no one who rose to that challenge as Esther did.
Purim, a holiday of joy, is borne of faith and devotion.