A Post-Purim Reflection

Shushan - From Consternation to Joy

“The city of Shushan was in consternation” (Esther 3:1).

“The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy and honor” (ibid 8:16).

The Megillah (Book of Esther) narrates Haman’s rise and fall, and the Jewish swing from despair to joy. Haman initially succeeded in convincing the King to place the fate of the Empire’s Jewish subjects in his hands. Once Haman issued the royal decree setting the date for the Empire-wide genocidal action targeting the Jews, “the King and Haman sat down to drink.” While the Jews of Shushan mourned, the entire city was “in consternation.”

Mordecai and the Jewish community publicly mourned the dire fate that awaited them. In Shushan and throughout the vast empire, Jews, engulfed in a seemingly endless black night, donned garments of mourning.

Amidst this travail, Mordecai turned to his only hope. He petitioned, cajoled, and finally convinced Esther to approach the King to plead on behalf of her people. She devised a brilliant plan that not only thwarted Haman, but led the King to hang him on the very gallows the villain had prepared for Mordecai. Then, in a speedy transition, Mordecai replaced Haman as the King’s chief advisor.

The Megillah joyfully describes how the day designated for Jewish destruction was transformed into one of glorious victory. The Jews in Shushan and throughout the Empire had “light, gladness, joy and honor.”

A beautiful Midrash, quoting the prophet Micah, “… when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me” (Mica 7:8) teaches that redemption unfolds slowly. It likens redemption to the darkness of night that slowly and imperceptibly transitions into dawn, the rising sun and the bright light of day. Esther skillfully strategized the series of moves that resulted in Haman’s demise. It took careful planning to transform Shushan from a city plunged in despair to one that “rejoiced and was glad.” (Esther 8:15).

It’s now more than a year that, like Shushan after Haman’s decree, the entire world has been living in a time of not merely consternation but of fear, illness, and death. Even if we have, thankfully not been infected and personally touched by the virus, the Covid has impacted our lives. It has plunged us into repeated and prolonged quarantines and isolation. It is only through Zoom and technology that we are able virtually to be with loved ones and friends in good times and bad.

It has been, and continues to be, one long dark “night,” but the rollout of vaccines has pierced the veil of darkness. We detect that morning has broken, ushering in the promise of a soon-to-be tomorrow of light. Our lives will then be brightened as we physically reach out to embrace loved ones and friends.

In the year and years to come, may we celebrate Purim in overflowing synagogues and paraphrasing the Megillah, in light, gladness and joy.

From the holy city of Jerusalem, my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar