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The Lesson of Purim

The “Rose of Ya’akov” was cheerful and glad, when they jointly saw Mordechai robed in royal blue. You have been their eternal salvation, and their hope throughout generations. To make known that all who hope in You will not be shamed; nor ever humiliated, those taking refuge in You (From the liturgy “Shoshanas Ya’akov,” recited after the reading of the Megillah, and sung with gusto throughout Purim).

The last sentence in the above passage contains the lesson of Purim which is, in essence, a fundamental principle of Judaism: that those who hope for Hashem’s salvation and turn to Him for refuge will neither be ashamed nor humiliated. However, although the simple translation (taken from the Artscroll siddur) is basically correct, it is not really accurate.

Similarly, it says in Tehillim (15:5), “He who does not give out his money at interest, nor takes a bribe against the innocent; He who does these things shall never stumble.” This translation too (mostly taken from the Bible Scholar CD), is basically correct, in its simple form, but not accurate.

The Hebrew words ‘lanetsach” and “leolam” can be translated as “never” and as “forever.” The simple understanding of these two passages is that one who does what is right will never suffer. Surely, our life’s personal experiences, as well as those we have learned from stories about the past which we’ve read and heard, will testify that the righteous do suffer a lot indeed. Is it heresy to ask such a question which seems to contradict the holy texts? Absolutely not! As a matter of fact, the Gemara asks the very same question on the above verse of Tehillim.

Rabbi Shim’on ben Elazar said, “Everyone who has money and lends them out interest free, upon him it is written, ‘He who does not give out his money at interest, nor takes a bribe against the innocent; He who does these things shall never stumble’ From this you have learned that everyone who does lend for interest, his assets will plummet.” Asks the Gemara, “But we actually do see those who do not lend for interest and yet they stumble! Rabbi Elazar said, ‘These stumble and climb up again while these stumble and do not ascend’” (Bava Metzia 71a).

Therefore, Rashi explains the verse to read, “He who does these things shall not stumble forever” (rather than, “shall never stumble). In other words, he may stumble, but eventually he will ascend.

In the same way, the lesson of Purim is not that all who turn to Hashem will never be shamed. Certainly the Jews were very ashamed as long as the declaration of Haman’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem” was prominently displayed in every city and town throughout Achashverosh’s empire. But, at the end of the day, when “Mordechai left the King's presence clad in royal apparel of turquoise and white with a large gold crown and a robe of fine linen and purple; then the city of Shushan was cheerful and glad” (Ester 8:15), then the Jews learned the lesson that “All who hope in You will not be shamed nor humiliated forever, those taking refuge in You.”

There are many children’s books filled with stories about how Hashem saved Tzaddikim from all types of harm and loss which might have befallen them. The moral of these stories is supposed to be that one who goes in Hashem’s ways will never be hurt. My children, too, have these books and I was always afraid that they would ask me very difficult questions like, “Why, then, did the Righteous suffer in the Holocaust?

Therefore, when I read these books to them, when they were little, I tried to stress that the moral is that Hashem will not abandon His beloved ones forever. Sometimes He will protect them from harm, preventing it from occurring at all; and sometimes he will save them from the harm which did befall them for reasons only He knows. But no tzaddik will remain humiliated forever. (This is the meaning, according to the Gr”a, ztvk”l, of the attributes Ozer – Helper, Moshia – Savior, and Magen – Shield, in the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei. Hashem helps some who are trying to get out of their problems; He saves some, without any effort on their behalf; and He shields some from encountering the problem in the first place.)

“What about those who were killed in the Holocaust?” you ask. The answer is that “forever” does not end with a person’s demise from this world. There is a lot going on after that; in other worlds and, once again, in this one, after the resurrection of the dead. At some point in time, everyone will bear witness that Hashem is Good and Fair, and that His Righteous Ones ultimately received what they deserved. That’s what Purim is all about and that’s why it’s such a happy holiday.

Happy Purim.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel