We learn in the Targum that when Mordechai was told the decree against the Jewish people was approved by the Heavenly Court, he immediately tore his clothes, donned sackcloth, placed ashes on his head, and cried, “Woe, how terrible is this decree of Achashverosh and Haman that doesn’t only affect some of our people, but seeks to uproot and annihilate our entire nation.”
Mordechai HaTzaddik gathered all the Jews and said to them: “Haven’t you heard about the decree to wipe us all out? We don’t have a king to rely on, we have no prophets, and we have nowhere to escape. We are like a flock without a shepherd, a ship without a captain, and children without parents.”
He took a holy ark to the gates of Shushan where he wrapped a Sefer Torah in sackcloth and put ashes on it. He then pleaded with everyone to pray and repent.
One Jew approached his Persian neighbor and asked him to take him, his wife, and his children as servants to save them from being killed. The Persian retorted, “Don’t you know what’s written in the decree? Anyone who is found harboring Jews will be killed together with them.” The Jew was terribly distressed.
Haman constructed the tree upon which to hang Mordechai on the night of Pesach. He then came to the beis medrash where he found Mordechai sitting with 22,000 children crying in sackcloth and ashes. Haman put them all in chains and said he would return the next morning to kill the children first before hanging Mordechai.
The mothers of the children came with bread and water, but they refused to eat, saying they would rather fast and die. Haman was not deterred and said he wouldn’t fall short like other leaders had who targeted the Jews. Pharaoh only had Jewish boys killed, Esav only wanted to kill Yaakov, and Amalek only killed weak Jews. Haman swore to kill everyone – young and old, women and children – without leaving a trace of the Jewish people.
The Medrash Rabbah tells us that the prayers and tears of the children reached the Heavenly Throne, and Hashem arose from the seat of justice and moved to the seat of mercy. The decree was torn up, and the Jewish nation was saved.
But why is it that the prayers of the righteous Mordechai and Esther didn’t succeed in overturning the evil decree? Why was it only young children who were able to achieve that result?
Two answers are offered. First, the Medrash tells us that when Hashem wanted to give the Torah to the Jewish nation, He asked for guarantors that the mitzvos would be fulfilled. Ultimately, He only accepted the children of all future generations as guarantors. Second, children possess an innocence and purity that is unrivaled, as Tehillim 8:3 states, “Out of the mouths of babes and infants You have established strength.”
In the Selichos we recite during the Days of Awe, we ask that the Jewish nation be forgiven in the merit of all the giants of every generation – Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe Rabbeinu, Eliyahu HaNavi, and Daniel. We conclude the prayers, though, by saying that if we cannot be forgiven in their merit, we should be forgiven in the merit of Jewish children.
It’s noted that the Jewish people are called Bnei Yisrael – the Children of Israel – alluding to the paramount merit of the child-like traits of pure innocence, simple faith, and devotion to fulfilling the will of Hashem.
Mordechai understood that the strength of the Jewish nation is found in the children who are guarded from ideologies and philosophies that are foreign to Torah. The great R’ Elchonon Wasserman, rosh yeshiva of Baranovich, noted that children form the foundation of the Jewish nation and must be scrupulously sheltered physically and spiritually.
Rain had not fallen in Eretz Yisrael for many months. The water shortage was acute, and there was no access to water for drinking and sanitation purposes. Although the rain would usually begin to fall after Sukkos in Yerushalayim, three months had already passed without rain. People were starving and sick.
The elders of the city decreed a fast day and a day for teshuvah and tefillah. People from all walks of life and economic backgrounds and yeshiva children accompanied by their teachers gathered for a special Minchah services at the Kosel HaMaaravi.
R’ Velvel, one of the holy people of the city, was preparing to make his way to the Kosel when suddenly there was a knock at the door. A neighbor wanted to go to the Kosel but she had a five-year-old child burning up with typhoid fever and in great pain. Her husband had already left for the Kosel and she could not leave the child alone.
R’ Velvel gave the woman his blessing to join everyone else and offered to remain behind with her son until she returned. The great tzaddik then went to sit at the boy’s bedside with his Tehillim in hand and prayed fervently.
As he sat beside him, the child woke up, lifted his hands towards Heaven, and cried out, “Ribono Shel Olam, why are You withholding the rain? We have no water to wash our hands properly for netilas yadayim. Please send rain so that I will be able to wash my hands again with a lot of water.”
R’ Velvel couldn’t believe his ears. A young child wracked with pain and fever did not ask for water to drink but only longed for water so that he could fulfill the precious mitzvah of netilas yadayim!
That night, the skies miraculously opened up and rain came pouring down. Perhaps it was due to the heartfelt prayer of this young boy, Feitel, who eventually recovered and grew up to be a great tzaddik.