By Rabbi Mordechai Levin
Sometimes things work out completely different than what we might have expected or feared. We worry about certain things that might occur in the future, but they never happen. We hope for good things and our expectations are not met. Life’s unpredictability is one of the messages of Purim.
Purim is based on the events narrated in a little book of the Hebrew Bible, Megillat Esther, or the scroll of Esther. It tells how Esther was raised by Mordecai in the Persian town of Shushan. At one point, Esther was taken to the palace of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem. The king did not know that Esther was Jewish, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her people.
When Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, who was an important minister in the king’s court, Haman decided to punish and get rid of all the Jews. King Ahasuerus told Haman to do with them as he pleased. Later, the King was reminded that Mordecai had once saved his life, and decided that he ought to be honored with a public tribute. Mordecai persuaded Esther to intercede with the king on behalf of her people, which she did at great personal risk.
A turnaround of fortune happened: The endangered Mordecai was honored, Haman was condemned, and the Jews became the victors. Ahasuerus permitted the Jews to defend themselves against their persecutors, many of whom they killed.
In the story, several things turned out differently than anticipated (Esther 9:1): “When the enemies of the Jews had expected to get them in their power, the opposite happened, and the Jews got their enemies in their power.”
First: The king’s edict following his wife Vashti’s defiance was intended to keep the women of his kingdom from attaining influence over their men; but its effect was the ascendancy of Esther, who decided the policies of the king regarding Haman and the fate of the Jews.
Second: Two people planned a palace coup; but instead of the king perishing at their hands, they died at his.
Third: Haman hoped to be honored by the king by being clothed in royal robes and given a royal steed. However, the king gave those honors to Mordecai, and Haman was relegated to leading the honoree and the horse around.
Fourth: Haman ordered the construction of the gallows for Mordecai; however, it is he himself who hangs upon that tool of his own creation.
The story of Purim reminds us that life is unpredictable and that there is no way we can control everything. Our individual and communal fortune can change in a flash — for bad or for good. It also gives us hope that darkness can turn into light, failure can turn into achievement, and a difficult today can turn into a better tomorrow.