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Purim (2) Where is the Prayer?

In the previous blog, we read that G-d’s name does not appear in the role of Esther but that He is, of course, the One who determines everything, regardless of what people wish and plan. In this blog, I want to look at the prayer of Mordecai and Ester. It is expected that they, people of a very high spiritual level, will pray in such difficult circumstances, yet at first it does not seem to happen openly right away.

In Esther 4:1, we read the following about Mordecai’s reaction to Haman’s deadly decree:

וּמׇרְדֳּכַ֗י יָדַע֙ אֶת־כׇּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר נַעֲשָׂ֔ה וַיִּקְרַ֤ע מׇרְדֳּכַי֙ אֶת־בְּגָדָ֔יו וַיִּלְבַּ֥שׁ שַׂ֖ק וָאֵ֑פֶר וַיֵּצֵא֙ בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֔יר וַיִּזְעַ֛ק זְעָקָ֥ה גְדוֹלָ֖ה וּמָרָֽה׃

When Mordechai heard all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went through the city, shouting loudly and bitterly.

That is a logical reaction, that is what anyone would do who heard such a news, but you would expect him to start praying.

From Exodus 2:23, however, we can learn that the Hebrew word זְעָקָ֥ה used here is used for prayer, prayer that takes place under desperate circumstances. A cry/prayer from the depths of the soul to G-d for help.

וַיְהִי֩ בַיָּמִ֨ים הָֽרַבִּ֜ים הָהֵ֗ם וַיָּ֙מׇת֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם וַיֵּאָנְח֧וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל מִן־הָעֲבֹדָ֖ה וַיִּזְעָ֑קוּ וַתַּ֧עַל שַׁוְעָתָ֛ם אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים מִן־הָעֲבֹדָֽה׃

A long time after that, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites sighed under slavery and cried out; and their cry for help from slavery rose up to G-d.

In Dutch, you have the proverb “sitting in sack and ashes”. It means that someone is desperately sad. No more and no less. However if we look at Jonah 3:8, for example, where this “sitting in sack and ashes” is also described, it means repenting, coming to repentance to G-d.

וְיִתְכַּסּ֣וּ שַׂקִּ֗ים הָֽאָדָם֙ וְהַבְּהֵמָ֔ה וְיִקְרְא֥וּ אֶל־אֱלֹהִ֖ים בְּחׇזְקָ֑ה וְיָשֻׁ֗בוּ אִ֚ישׁ מִדַּרְכּ֣וֹ הָֽרָעָ֔ה וּמִן־הֶחָמָ֖ס אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּכַפֵּיהֶֽם׃

They will be enveloped in sacks – human and animal – and will cry out forcefully to G-d. Let everyone return from his evil ways and from the injustice of which he is guilty.

Mordechai – as the leader of his generation – a great prophet, went into sackcloth and ashes? He repented? But it was he who had done nothing wrong. He had not been in the king’s palace, he had not bowed to idols, why did he show repentance? A leader takes responsibility and a leader identifies with his people.

Mordecai pleaded with the people, but more than that, he went into the city. He set an example to the people, called on them to repent, called on them to pray to G-d in their despair. When the people as a whole would cry out to G-d, repent, just as the people had done in Egypt, G-d would save them from Haman’s decree.

It was also only after the people repented and cried out to G-d in prayer that he called on Esther to go to the king.

And then we read in Esther 5:1

וַיְהִ֣י ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֗י וַתִּלְבַּ֤שׁ אֶסְתֵּר֙ מַלְכ֔וּת וַֽתַּעֲמֹ֞ד בַּחֲצַ֤ר בֵּית־הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ הַפְּנִימִ֔ית נֹ֖כַח בֵּ֣ית הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ וְ֠הַמֶּ֠לֶךְ יוֹשֵׁ֞ב עַל־כִּסֵּ֤א מַלְכוּתוֹ֙ בְּבֵ֣ית הַמַּלְכ֔וּת נֹ֖כַח פֶּ֥תַח הַבָּֽיִת׃

On the third day, Esther put on royal clothes and stood in the courtyard of the king’s palace, facing the king’s palace, while the king sat on his royal throne in the throne room opposite the palace entrance.

At first glance, there seems to be nothing in here about prayer. However, the Sages teach that when Ester’s scroll talks about “the King” it is about G-d when it talks about the king Achasverosh, it is of course about Achasverosh.

After three days of prayer and fasting, Esther had reached such a high spiritual level that she clothed herself with Divine Inspiration/Divine Malchut. She went to Achasverosh with determination, however, with every step in the palace corridor at the sight of the many idols, this Divine Inspiration waned, and the feeling of danger for the king increased with every step.

She then cried out to G-d: “My G-d! My G-d! Why have You forsaken me?” (Psalm 22)

For had G-d not been with Sarah and Rebecca when they were one day in the palace of an evil king, and she, she had been with Achasverosh for so many years now. Where was HaShem?

But soon it would turn out that He was also with her and would also save her from Haman’s decree.

When someone in his despair, from the depths of his soul comes to repentance and prays to Hashem, He will certainly answer and give salvation from that situation. That does not mean that anyone experiences that right away. It would take time for the people to be delivered from Egypt, it would take time for Haman to be hanged, for the situation to prove safe for the Jews. But in the end, redemption will come from His hand.

By Angelique Sijbolts

With thanks to Rabbi Tani Burton

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Link: Purim 1

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