Finding safety in others’ lights

  • RabbiChaikinUSE
The Sandton Gautrain station on a Sunday night is a fairly eerie place. There are few commuters, and signs all around to remind patrons to safeguard their valuables.
by Rabbi Yossi Chaikin | Mar 05, 2020

For this reason, I got into the lift for the long journey from basement minus-8 to ground level with some apprehension. I was greatly relieved when I was followed by a Gautrain security guard, and then, just as the doors were closing, by another two such officers.

As the car began its upward trip, I looked up and shared my thoughts with my co-riders, “I feel so safe with the three of you here with me.” One of the guards looked at me, smiled and replied, “We feel so safe here with the man of G-d riding up with us.” Immediately, one of his colleagues intoned, “Amen”, to which the four of us, in unison, responded, “Amen”.

The dialogue in the elevator reminded me of a conversation between Mordechai and Esther, recorded in the Megillah, when word of Haman’s decree of total annihilation of the Jewish nation became public.

In Mordechai’s mind, all now fits into place. All those years before, with Esther brutally abducted and taken to King Achashverosh’s harem, desperately clinging to Jewish practice while keeping her affiliation secret, ultimately crowned queen. None of it made any sense. Now it seems obvious: the keys to salvation of her people are in her hands. She’s the right person in the right place at the right time.

Mordechai immediately begins to plead with Esther to use her influence and charm with the king to achieve a reprieve from the devastating decree. Esther appreciates that the only intervention that will be able to bring about the miraculous rescue needed is that of the King in heaven. She therefore replies that she will plead with King Achashverosh, but only if, concurrently, the entire Jewish nation engages in fasting, praying, and pleading of its own.

This explains Esther’s strange decision to invite both Achashverosh and Haman to feast with her, not once, but two days in a row. It would appear to be the most inappropriate step to take, cozying up to the arch-enemy while her co-religionists were gathering in their houses of worship, crying out to Hashem to deliver them from the hands of those very two people.

But this was precisely what she wanted her brothers and sisters to think as they assembled in prayer. The fact that there was a Jewish queen in the palace was now an open secret in the Jewish community. She feared they were relying too much on her intercession, and not enough on divine salvation. If word got out that she couldn’t be relied on, the Jews were likely to pray harder and depend less on her shrewd political lobbying.

The story of the miracle of Purim is described in the Megillah with the following words, “For the Jews, there was light and joy.”

As for me, I walked out of the train station humbled, and also feeling like I had somehow been shown the light. To add to my own little personal miracle, the scheduled load shedding for Sandton had somehow been averted, so for this Jew, there was also physical light.

  • Rabbi Yossi Chaikin is the rabbi of the Oxford Synagogue Centre, and the chairperson of the South African Rabbinical Association.

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