Purim: Death in the Presence of the King

hadassahWho [but Moses] ascended to heaven and descended? Who else gathered the wind in his palm? Who else tied the waters in a cloak? Who established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name if you know?

Proverbs 30:4 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

On that day at the turning of evening he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the sea.” They left the crowd of people and took him in the boat that he was in, but other boats followed him. A great, stormy wind arose, and the waves were flooding inside the boat to the point where it was almost full. He was asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat, so they woke him up and said to him, “Rabbi, are you not worried about us? We are perishing!” He woke up and reprimanded the wind, and he said to the sea, “Hush and be silent!” The wind calmed down, and there was a great silence. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Why are you lacking faith?” They feared with a great fear and said to each other, “Who is he, then, that both the wind and the sea listen to him?”

Mark 4:35-41 (DHE Gospels)

Faith in the face of certain disaster is at least “difficult” for most of us. We struggle to maintain our faith in God when “ordinary” trials and troubles confront us, but when the difficulty is extreme and death or severe hardship seems absolutely unavoidable, where is our faith then? Moments like those are times of extreme testing and most of us, myself included, hope and pray we will never have our faith tested like that.

And yet, at this time of Purim, we see before us that faith is tested and tested harshly. Yes, the story of Esther is known and realizing that it has a happy ending takes some of the tension out of her situation, but that’s not how life works for us. That God knows the ending of our life of troubles before it begins does nothing to comfort us when we are in the midst of terror, injury, disease, and grief.

Only Esther could save her people from the evil decree of Haman, but to approach the King when he has not summoned you could lead to death. Could Esther risk her own life for the sake of the Jewish nation in exile as they rapidly approached extermination?

Then Mordechai said to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine in your soul that you will be able to escape in the king’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews. For if you persist in keeping silent at a time like this, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether it was just for such a time as this that you attained the royal position!”

Esther 4:13-14 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

While in the Jewish world, Purim is a time of joy and frivolity, a time of wearing costumes, children’s plays, candy, cakes, and a little of the “hard stuff” (for the adults), what lessons can we learn, Jews and Christians alike, from Esther’s example?

How should we understand this give-and-take? Was it simply a matter of Esther fearing for her life, while Mordechai urged her to put the plight of her people first?

Their argument, explains the Nesivos Shalom, was much more fundamental. Esther had accepted the fate of her people. She argued that they had reached such a spiritual low that they were undeserving of Divine deliverance from Haman’s decree. The Al-mighty has rules, and the people had broken them and were sealed for extinction. Mordechai countered that the situation is never hopeless. We will be saved “some other way,” one that defies all rules. G-d has a profound love for us and will break the rules of His kingdom, even if we don’t deserve it. If we reach beyond our limits for Him, He will go beyond His limits for us. Go into the palace against the rules, he said, and demonstrate how our love for Him also transcends all limits.

Purim encourages us to live in this plain that overlooks our natural limitations. Walled in by physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries, we often fall short of our potential for greatness, accepting that some things are just impossible to achieve. Some things are indeed impossible, but never are they hopeless. The Al-mighty has limitless love and help waiting for us, and with Him all is possible. With that in mind, we can have the strength to attempt and hopefully achieve the impossible.

-Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
“Beyond the Law”
Commentary on Esther and Purim
Project Genesis

symmes_chapel_churchIt is said that we should maintain our hope in God, even when our death seems certain, “even if a sharp sword is resting on [our] neck” and the decree against us is final, that through prayer, the mercy of God may still be aroused. We read the story of Esther at Purim. We dress in silly, brightly colored costumes and participate in plays where, when Mordechai’s name is said, we cheer, and when Haman’s name (may it be blotted out forever) is mentioned, we boo. We eat and drink as if we had been a prisoner on death row who, in the final seconds before the fatal injection was to be given to us, we were miraculously pardoned and set free.

But we must always be mindful that there are still prisoners.

“[A]fter all of these pressures, after all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ.”

Pastor Saeed Abedini
from a letter he wrote as a prisoner in Iran

Pastor Abedini is still a captive in Iran and his jailers continually demand that he deny his faith in Christ and “return to Islam.” I don’t normally “get political” on this blog nor was I intending on writing a commentary on Purim or for that matter, on Pastor Abedini, but I think God had other plans. In faith, we pray for deliverance when times are difficult. But it is trust and hope that drives us to pray when the sword is in motion, falling toward the back of our necks, and death is certain.

I raise my eyes upon the mountains; whence will come my help? My help is from Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Who is it who has gathered the wind in his palm? Who is He and what is the name of his Son? Who is he, then, that both the wind and the sea listen to him?

Pray that the God who created us all liberate Pastor Abedini soon and that his faith and hope does not falter. Pray that none of us will be put to a similar testing, but if we are, pray that we are strengthened and can endure.

Pray that the King finds favor with us and welcomes us into His Presence.

12 thoughts on “Purim: Death in the Presence of the King”

  1. I was a bit surprised to see in your citation of Proverbs 30:4, from the Stone Edition of the Tenakh, that it contained the bracketed insertion “[but Moses]” as if he had ascended to heaven and descended. That certainly exceeds what the Torah tells us, and it is out of character for the rest of the verse which must refer to HaShem as its subject (i.e., who gathers the winds, binds waters, and establishes the edges of the earth). Such a deliberate insertion seems to me gratuitous and tendentious, as if begging for an argument with someone. Such an argument is entirely irrelevant to your blog topic, which is rather serious fare for a Purimschpiel, but I found it remarkable nonetheless.

  2. It was a direct quote from the Stone Edition of the Tanakh (in English). I didn’t add [but Moses] and didn’t feel, since I was quoting, that I could remove it. Such are the limitations for someone (like me) who can’t read Hebrew. Sorry if it offended you, PL. It wasn’t my intention.

    1. @James – I did realize that you were merely quoting the Stone Tenakh, bracketed insertion and all, and my “raised-eyebrow style” remark was therefore not directed at you. Nor was it any matter of offense, though it seemed somehow worth challenging. Apparently, since then, others have enjoyed citing references to various folks reported to have ascended to heaven, though some were cited who were never reported also to have descended again. Nonetheless, regardless of how much off-topic is this issue, I still assert that Prov.30:4 refers to HaShem and not to Moshe (though the “son” reference is bi-valent, including both Israel and the Messiah).

  3. From certain Jewish Mystical tales..the concept of Moses ascending to heaven..is written about and considered. For instance, from the “”Book Gabriel’s Palace”” Howard Schwartz 1933 Moses ascends to heaven before the giving of Torah.

  4. 2 Kings 2:11 “And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”

    Genesis 5:24 “Enoch walked with G-d; then he was no more, because G-d took him away.”

    Hebrews 11:5 “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because G-d had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased G-d.”

    John 3:13 “No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, … the Son of Man.”

    I think that it is safe to say that whatever “heaven” Elijah went up to wasn’t the regular atmosphere around the earth or the planets and the stars (the first two levels of “heaven”). And Ehoch, since G-d just “took him”, where did Enoch if he didn’t die, if not heaven into G-d’s presence? Perhaps whoever wrote John was mistaken in his “no man” statement.

  5. Some people attempt to resolve the above contradictions by claiming that there’s a difference between John’s “ascended” and being “taken up” (or “went up”) into heaven elsewhere in the Bible, that is one is active and another one is passive. Well, in Mark 16:19 (as well as in Acts 1:9 and Luke 24:51) it says “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God, signifying a passive action (meaning G-d was the one who took Jesus up, he didn’t climb up into heaven).

    It could also be that John meant something else entirely – that Jesus was taken up all the way to the throne of G-d to stand at G-d’s right hand, which is clearly no one else has accomplished before him.

  6. OBTW – Jewish mystical tales that describe Moshe ascending to heaven in connection with receiving the Torah stem from a much later time period than the book of Proverbs (i.e., at least a thousand years later, and maybe as much as 2500), therefore one may not read back into Proverbs any such idea.

  7. ” I still assert that Prov.30:4 refers to HaShem and not to Moshe”

    “Who has gone up to heaven and come down?”

    ProclaimLiberty, I am not sure that it makes sense to say that it was referring to G-d in the above quote. G-d IS already in heaven. In fact, He is always in heaven. He doesn’t need to go up to it or come down from it. If anything, He would be coming DOWN from heaven, not going up. Perhaps the rest of the verses in Proverbs 30 may refer to G-d, but not this part. May be this is why traditionally it was understood that it was Moses going up and coming down, when he brought down Torah from G-d (as the Stone Edition illustrates), whether it was indeed the original intent of the proverb or not.

    1. In the episode of Sodom and Gomorrah, HaShem says he will “go down” to investigate the matter thoroughly (which thus becomes an instruction for all future legal investigations to examine the crime scene closely). Of course, He didn’t stay “down”, but returned to His Makom (i.e., “up”). A bit later in time, we see Yakov’s vision of a ladder between earth and heaven, upon which HaShem’s angels ascend and decend. While the angels also must originate in heaven, the order of their activity on the ladder also begins with ascending. So it is not out of character for Prov.30:4 to cite the same order for its subject. Surely we would not wish to limit our view of HaShem to think that He might not have done similarly. Hence there is no reason linguistically or otherwise to separate out the clauses in Prov.30:4 to apply any one of them to someone other than HaShem when all the rest clearly do so. There is only One subject in the verse, and inserting Moshe into it makes of him something of an intruder (and certainly the end of the verse is not asking about Moshe’s son’s name).

  8. I’m glad the conversation went on without me. Sorry to not be around but yesterday I went to my grandson’s 4th birthday party. Afterwards my two sons and I went out to a movie, which is something we don’t get to do very often.

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