…and notice the miracles

By: Rabbi Dovid Samuels

“She hesitated, she contemplated, she sought advice, she prayed. That is how a righteous person responds. Slowly, carefully. Pause.”

Printed with the Vilna Gaon’s commentary on Megillas Esther is a sefer called Yosef Lekach. Written by Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi in the 1500s, he goes through each and every verse in the Megillah and explains how every detail played a part in the great miracle that was the Purim Story. Besides for being a phenomenally enlightening work, it serves as a lesson for us that no detail should be ignored. Everything is there for a reason; and, in this case, everything is a miracle.

The problem is, we often don’t notice the miracles. Not because we don’t want to, but because we are moving too fast to detect them. Megillas Esther is loaded with miracles, and within its holy words is a strong message for us to slow down and reap the benefits of a more mindful and conscious life.

Rabbi Meilich Biderman tells a humorous story of a man – a traitor – in a community, and the Yidden hated him. So much so that the children would call him ‘Haman’ every time they saw him. The traitor hated this, and complained to the king, asking him to prevent this abuse. So the king made a law that the Jews weren’t allowed to call anyone ‘Haman’. Not to be deterred, the children simply changed their chant from ‘Haman’ to ‘Ben Hamdasa’ (Haman’s full name). After another complaint to the king, a new law was made that prevented Jews from calling anyone ‘Ben Hamdasa’. But the sneaky children came up with a new plan. In the Megillah, the tune made by the Megillah reader when the verse says ‘and Haman came’ is called ‘kadma v’azla’. So that was their new name for the traitor: ‘Kadma v’azla’. Another complaint, and another law prohibited the Jews from calling anyone ‘Kadma v’azla’. So, left with no option, the children stopped using nicknames against the traitor. Instead, they would hum the tune that is made by the ‘kadma v’azla’ notes whenever the traitor appeared. Furious, and at the end of his wits, he again went to complain to the king. But this time the king replied: “I can stop them from calling you Haman; I can stop them from calling you Ben Hamdasa; I can stop them from calling you Kadma v’azla. But I cannot stop the Jews from singing!

While Rav Biderman uses this story to highlight the significance in singing songs on Purim, we can discover something else from Haman’s kadma v’azla. The words kadma v’azla are Aramaic. Translated, they mean to pre-empt and to go; or simply: to go hastily. The gemora tells us that Haman was one of Achashveirosh’s advisers at the beginning of the story, who went by the name Memuchan. It tells of him that he was the lowest of the advisors, but because of his hastiness, he spoke before the others, giving Achashveirosh the advice to kill Vashti, the queen. This advice, as it happens, was the reason why Achashveirosh became enraged at Haman later in the Purim story, as he suspected Haman of trying to steal Esther, just as he had taken Vashti from him at the beginning. Haman’s hastiness and impetuousness led to his downfall and death. Just slow down, Haman, and you might not make the mistake that would cost you your life.

But it was in his blood, this precipitousness. Haman was from the nation of Amalek. After the Jews left Mitzrayim, no nation dared to raise a hand against the chosen people. No one, that is, except for Amalek. Chazal tell us that they ‘cooled the bath’ by attacking us, allowing others to now think that they could do the same. But in doing so, they got beaten, badly, and lost the war against us. Slow down, Amalek, just give this some thought. It’s not going to work out well for you. But their rashness was who they were. They hated us…they must attack. Kadma v’azla – don’t think, just do it! Haman was merely following in his forefathers’ footsteps.

So let us see a different approach – the Jewish approach. When Achashveirosh was hosting a world-wide beauty pageant to find a new wife to replace Vashti, he demanded everyone audition for the position of queen – wife to Achashveirosh, ruler over the inhabited world. The Megillah mentions when the time came for all the maidens to appear before Achashveirosh. What tune is sung by the reader as it mentions “all of the maidens”? You guessed it: kadma v’azla! They leaped at the opportunity to become queen of the known world. The fame, the fortune, the glitz, and the glamour! Foolish, really, given that only one would win. The lottery odds are better: at least you can buy more than one ticket! But take note (no pun intended) what tune is sung when Esther’s turn for appearing before Achashveirosh comes: Munach, munach, munach, munach. This is very significant. The verse says: “When the time came for Esther, the daughter of Avichayil, the uncle of Mordechai… to come before the king…” The first four cantillation notes of this verse are four munachs. The word munach means to rest. Take a look at that! When all the other maidens were given their chance to appear before the king, they ran for it! But Esther, a modest and refined woman, went reluctantly. She hesitated – munach – she contemplated – munach – she sought advice – munach – she prayed – munach. That is how a righteous person responds. Slowly, carefully. Pause.

This idea can be used to answer an otherwise rather unexplainable issue towards the end of the Megillah. Thanks to Haman’s act of persuasion, Achashveirosh allowed for messengers to send out a decree to all the lands of the king to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jews from young to old. After Haman’s downfall and demise, King Achashveirosh grants permission to Mordechai and Esther to write as they see to be good for the Jews. Here, the Megillah strengthens the power of Mordechai and Esther’s new decree by mentioning an interesting rule in those times: that any decree written in the name of the king and sealed with his ring cannot be nullified. This new decree, incidentally, gave the Jews permission to kill all their enemies. The contradiction is glaring: At the very same time as Mordechai and Esther wrote a decree that would not be nullifiable, due to its royal nature, they would be nullifying the original decree that advocated their own destruction! How could they write an irrevocable decree that revokes a previously irrevocable decree?!

But if we just know how to slow down and pause slightly – munach – then all will be answered. You see, the original decree, allowing for the massacre of world Jewry, rachmana litzlan, was worded as follows: “To destroy, kill, and annihilate the Jews.” Achashveirosh couldn’t annul this decree. All of his decrees were to remain as stable and secure as his throne. But there is a small, seemingly inconsequential little tool that can open interesting legal ramifications. It’s called: a comma. Let’s explain.

In 2006, there was a legal dispute that resulted in Bell Aliant, a telephone company in Canada, citing punctuation rules that allowed them to save one million Canadian dollars by getting out of a contract with a cable television provider in Ontario. Grammar rules? Yes, your English teacher was right, after all. The 14-page contract had one sentence which read: “This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.” The final comma is ambiguous. Does it refer back to the five years since the agreement was made, or also to the immediately preceding part about the subsequent five-year terms? Without having to rehash high school English classes, the courts ruled that the comma meant that Bell Aliant could cancel their contract immediately, saving a million dollars. Who would have thought it: a comma worth a million dollars!

But this didn’t start in Canada with Bell Aliant. It started in Persia with the Jews. In order for Achashveirosh to allow for the survival of the Jewish people, he needed to deal with the irrevocable decree of the annihilation of the Jews. But with one crafty comma – just a small little pause – miracles can happen, and Purim would become a reality. Achashveirosh re-read it: “To destroy, kill, and annihilate – add a comma – the Jews.” A pause before ‘the Jew’s’ allows the Jews to do the killing. It turns them from the subject of annihilation to the one’s handing out the punishment. So, the old decree was not revoked. It was re-understood. Simply pause. Pause before ‘the Jew’s’ and the victims become the victors. This is how the king could allow Mordechai and Esther to empower the Jewish people to take their revenge on the wicked Persians.

The message of the Megillah is clear: Stop. Slow down. Pause. Allow for some time to plan, to prepare, to pray. At a slower pace you will notice how every detail plays a part in the story of one great miracle. You will see how many beautiful tunes there are accompanying the tale of your life, how many stunning sights could have been missed. Yes, there is a time to act, but even a wise person needs to take time to be sure that his actions are well-timed, well-placed, and well-received. Haman acted hastily; Esther went slowly. A decree of destruction was turned into a source of salvation and joy. You just need to master when and where to place the pause.

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