The Mishnah (Megillah 2:1) states, “One who reads the megillah l’mafrei’a has not fulfilled his obligation.” The word “l’mafrei’a” is normally translated as “backwards” – i.e., not in the correct order. But it can also mean “in the past.” Accordingly, the Baal Shem Tov said: When we read the megillah as a historical tale of the past that isn’t relevant to us today, we have not fulfilled our obligation.
This teaching can better be understood in light of the Arizal’s comment on Esther 9:28 (“And these days shall be remembered and celebrated [literally, “done”] in every generation”). The Arizal said: When these days are properly remembered to the extent that we endeavor to re-experience the original events and miracles, the original Divine revelations responsible for those miracles recur again.
The truth is that on the anniversary of any great miracle, we arouse the Divine revelations responsible for the original miracle if we remember the events to the extent of re-experiencing them – hence the sentence in the Haggadah, “In every generation, a person is obligated to view himself as if he himself left Egypt.” But since the above-quoted verse appears in Megillas Esther, the teaching derived from it must be especially relevant to Purim.
How so? Because the story of the megillah is told in past tense – “And it happened in the days of Achashverosh…” – and a person may therefore not connect it to his own life. A little reflection, however, should reveal that our situation today closely parallels that of our ancestors. For example, just as Jews then were “one nation, scattered among the nations,” so are we today.
This description even applies to Jews living in the Holy Land. Despite all their “independence,” they are largely subject to the whims and control – directly or indirectly – of non-Jewish powers and even the land’s non-Jewish residents. And just like 2,500 years ago, wicked men wish to annihilate us and would if G-d didn’t interfere to save us (as the Haggadah states).
The only difference is that, in those days, everyone saw the Divine miracle as it was happening, whereas today we need to be reminded that such miracles happen constantly, for “the one to whom the miracle occurs does not recognize his miracle” (Niddah 31a).
A primary lesson of Purim, then, is to relive the vital awareness that Hashem is protecting His people in exile, “scattered among the nations.” This protection depends greatly on our being, as the same verse says, “one nation…[with] laws…different than those of every nation.” In other words, it is Jewish unity – expressed through love and concern for all our brethren throughout the world – and faithful observance of the Torah – distinguishing us from other nations – that especially evokes Divine compassion and protection.
The necessity to relive and re-experience the events and miracles of Purim applies to both men and women. And children must be educated to re-experience them too. By learning about challenges experienced by Jews in past eras and how – with Hashem’s help and miracles – they overcame them and survived to perpetuate the Jewish people and its unique, G-d-given way of life, even young children become inspired and gain the fortitude to follow their ancestors’ example.
Thus, reliving and learning the lessons of the past equips our children with the tools they need to cope with all the trials and vicissitudes that life presents every Jew. And they empower them to prepare the world to greet Moshiach very soon.