Which part of the Megillah reading do you enjoy the most? If you are like most people you enjoy the actual story, especially the parts where Haman’s plans blow up in his face. And if you studied the commentaries it is even more exciting, as you recall many of the fascinating hidden miracles that took place. But let’s be honest – when we reach “the bottom of the ninth” (i.e., the second half of the ninth chapter) many of us start to daydream and think about the festivities awaiting us. This part of the Megillah, which discusses the various halachos and mitzvos of Purim, seems to be really technical.
Aside from the fact that we are obligated to pay attention until the end of the Megillah, there are benefits to doing so. First, the best way to connect to mitzvos is through learning about them and understanding them. Second, the end of the Megillah reveals to us the take-home message of Purim. Let me explain.
At the end of chapter nine we read that Esther and Mordechai sent letters to all the Jews, establishing the Yom Tov of Purim for all generations. And then we read: “L’kayem es ye’mei haPurim ha’eileh b’zmaneihem … v’chasher kiyemu al nafsham v’al zar’um divrei hatzomos v’zaakasam – To establish these days of Purim on their proper dates …just as they had accepted upon themselves and upon their descendants the matter of the fasts and their lamentations” (9:31).
What does it mean that they accepted upon themselves Purim in order to remember the “divrei hatzomos v’zaakasam” – the fasts and prayers? Rav Chaim Friedlander (Sifsei Chaim, Vol. II, page 179) explains that they wanted to make it clear to all future generations that the reason Hashem inflicts a person with harsh decrees and tribulations is so that the recipient should pray and repent.
We may have thought that the first thing Mordechai would do after hearing about the decree of annihilation would be to run to Queen Esther and work on annulling it through their diplomatic and political connections. But that is not what happened. Mordechai’s first response, before anything else, was tefillah, as it states: “And Mordechai learned of all that had been done and Mordechai tore his clothes and donned sackcloth and ashes. He went out into the midst of the city and cried a loud and bitter cry” (4:1). Why did he act in this manner?
Anyone who opens his eyes and takes a proper look at this world will realize that Hashem is the epitome of good and kindness. He only wants our best and to constantly bestow upon us blessing and prosperity. This being the case, it is obvious that even the trials and tribulations that a person experiences are only for his good. We were sent to this world to achieve perfection and thus receive great and everlasting pleasure in the World to Come. The main way we attain this perfection is through learning Torah and doing mitzvos, as that brings us close to Hashem. One who sins distances himself, to some extent, from Hashem, and loses the ability to receive that reward.
Because Hashem has such a great love for every Jew, He sends wakeup calls in the form of the aforementioned suffering. What should such a person do? Obviously he should say, “Hashem, I hear You! I admit that I have strayed from You – please take me back!” In other words – turn to Him in prayer! A prayer from the bottom of the heart shows true remorse and a desire to return.
Now we understand what Mordechai did. He knew that this harsh decree must mean that Klal Yisroel had sinned in a very severe way. The first sin took place many years earlier when the Jews bowed to the statue of Nevuchadnetzar and the most recent sin was enjoying the banquet of Achashverosh (see Masechtas Megillah 12a). Through these acts Klal Yisrael had distanced themselves from Hashem, and that is why He brought upon them this decree. In other words, the purpose of the decree was to cause them to pray – as that would bring them back to Hashem.
When the Jews saw the leader of the generation wearing sackcloth in the town square and crying out bitterly, they were jolted out of their sleep and realized how far they had strayed. Only after the masses had also joined in the mourning and prayer did Mordechai ask for Esther’s help.
Purim teaches us that if a person finds himself in a difficult situation, his first response must be to daven to Hashem and repent. Only after that should he do hishtadlus and take actions to solve the problem. One who prays just to ensure that his efforts will resolve the problem has missed the boat! On the contrary – the main reason Hashem sent the difficulty was so that he should pray.
But perhaps there is an even stronger lesson. The Midrash (Yalkut Shemoni Va’eschanan) tells us that in Tanach we find thirteen different names for prayer, each one revealing a different aspect and approach to davening. Some situations require many of these forms of prayer – others less. The first on the list is ze’aka – crying out, the very word that is used in the Megillah to refer to the prayers of Klal Yisroel at that time. Rav Shimshon Pincus (She’arim B’Tefillah, Hebrew version, page 41) explains that a person cries out when his heart is so full of emotion that he cannot even formulate the words.
It is late at night and Reuven is suddenly surrounded by a group of knife-wielding hooligans. He frantically looks for help and spots a security guard a few buildings away. Reuven shouts to him: “Please come and save me!” When Reuven realizes that the guard doesn’t seem too interested in helping, he simply shrieks: “HEEEEEELLP!”
When a person cries out to Hashem with a ze’aka, it is a sign that he is desperate and has nowhere else to turn. Indeed, the Zohar states that this type of prayer is the most precious to Hashem, since it comes from the depths of the person’s heart and demonstrates his closeness to Hashem. Hashem sent the difficult situation in order to hear this type of prayer.
Rav Pincus concludes: Praying in this manner is more relevant than you think. We must realize that we are in mortal danger every moment of our lives. First, our bodies are so fragile and complicated. It is only with Hashem’s constant supervision that they function properly – otherwise we would not be able to live for even one second. Second, we have an enemy living inside of us who is constantly plotting to kill us: the Satan. If not for Hashem’s help we would have long succumbed to his enticements and died a spiritual death. We must therefore cry out: “Help!!!!!” We need not cry out with our mouths – we can do it in our minds – and no one has to know about it. One who reaches this extreme level of closeness to Hashem, even for a fleeting moment, should cherish it and strive to reach it again and again.
This is what the story of Purim teaches us – Hashem wants our tefillos. Not mere tefillos – He wants tze’aka – a shout from the depths of our hearts!