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Home » Purim

Purim: The Boring Moments

Submitted by on March 12, 2022 – 9:47 pmNo Comment | 1,120 views

The boring moments are, well, boring. Why do we need them, can’t G-d just give us a short life filled with thrills rather than a long life with long stretches of boring moments? Who wants to be stuck in traffic or wait on line at the supermarket? Who wants to waste time researching destinations and travel plans, can’t we just get right to the best parts?

The Book of Esther that we read on Purim begins with a long chapter that is unrelated to the Jewish people. A fight broke out at a party between King Achashverosh and his wife, Vashti, and he had her killed. These are not boring stories, they are rather interesting, but they are not critical to the story of Purim. Why don’t we just begin by saying that Esther was the queen of Persia and Haman wanted to kill the Jews?

The answer is that G-d, in His infinite wisdom, determined that the thrills can’t be thrilling if the stage has not been set first by the long stretches of boring moments. In fact, when you look back you often find that the boring moments were the most profound. Let’s consider the story of Purim.

On the face of it, the story does not present much of a miracle. Achashverosh organized a worldwide pageant to find a wife, that’s not abnormal for the likes of Achashverosh. Haman was enraged that Mordechai would not bow to him, that’s also normal. Jews prayed and G-d listened, that too is (tongue in cheek) normal. Esther told Achashverosh that she was Jewish, and he consented to save the Jews. There is nothing abnormal about that either, which husband would stand by and let his friend wipe out his wife’s family? So, why are we so impressed by the story of Purim?

Because of what happened in the first chapter. That is where the miracle lies. Yes, the boring moments, the stories that seemed irrelevant to Jews at the time, saved the Jews. What happened at this party?

The Party
Achashverosh threw a lavish party for a hundred-and-eighty-six days. The party had gone well, everything had gone off without a hitch. Achashverosh and Vashti proved themselves perfect hosts, he with the men and she with the women. They were coiffed, posed, and polite.

Then on the very last day of this long party, disaster struck. They were nearly at the end, almost out of the woods, when Achashverosh dropped all restraints, showed his true colors, and drank like a peasant with his old cronies. Not surprisingly they got stinking drunk and behaved like the peasants they were.

They began to argue over which women were prettiest. Some said it was the Medes, others insisted it was the Persians. Achashverosh, who was married to Vashti, a Chaldean princess, insisted that Chaldeans are prettiest. When his pals mocked him, he offered to have her paraded through the men’s party to show her off. His pals agreed, and like the uncouth brutes they were, insisted that she come disrobed.

Vashti was no stranger to such debauchery. A rabid antisemite, she forced Jewish maidens to work in her palace every Shabbat. And to strip them of all dignity, she forced them to work naked. The last day of the party was also Shabbat, and it was a stroke of Divine justice that she would now be forced into similar shame before all the gawking men, including the Jews who were present.

Vashti would have done it because she was a terribly vulgar woman. It was not modesty or morality that prevented her from complying with her husband’s order. It wasn’t even the dignity of her station. It was shame. She had broken out in leprosy and had dressed carefully to cover her lesions. When her husband’s instructions threatened to expose her, she responded with the only weapon she had, scorn.

Mustering all the dignity of her royal ancestry, she proclaimed, “You son of my father’s stablemaster. My father would drink against a thousand men and not become inebriated, and you drink and become senseless?” the king was enraged and in his drunken temper, sentenced her to death.

Now think about this surprising turn of events. The party had been civil and dignified for a hundred-and-eighty-six days, it would not have been surprising for them to cut loose a little on the last day, but this? For the king to get so drunk, for the queen to grow so mad, for her to speak with such impudence, and for him to execute the woman he loved who gave him royal lineage, were all shockingly unexpected.

All the events that occurred after this were rather expected. As we mentioned earlier, Achashverosh held a beauty pageant, well what else would you expect of an uncouth king? Haman was enraged by Mordechai, Achashverosh got mad at Haman, these are all fairly routine. But the events that led to Esther becoming queen were nothing short of breathtaking. The royals who had behaved well for more than six months came unglued in the most unexpected and embarrassing way. At the time, no one could make sense of it. Only later did it become apparent that it was orchestrated from above to save the Jewish people. That is the true miracle of Purim.

The Greatest Part
The greatest part of all was that this miracle happened at all. You see, Achashverosh invited the Jews to this party. Mordechai warned them repeatedly not to go, but they disagreed. They thought Mordechai was stuck in the dark ages when Jews were barred from polite company. The Persians, an enlightened people, welcomed the Jews. The least Jews could do, was attend.

The presence of Jews at this party was most displeasing to G-d. Gazing into the future, G-d saw that Haman would attempt to annihilate the Jews with whom He was displeased. He could have let it happen, yet miracle of miracles, G-d used this very party to perform a miracle that would save their lives.[1]

The greatest miracle of all is that G-d loves us when we are good as when we are not. With Jews at that party in transgression of Mordechai’s instructions, G-d orchestrated a twisted plot that could only be explained in retrospect as a string of miracles to save the Jews. That is the truest miracle of Purim.

That is why Jewish law insists that we read the entire Megilah. We can’t skip the beginning and jump right into the story. The story would never have happened without the miracle of the first chapter.

The Boring Moments
We asked earlier why G-d puts us through all the boring moments of life, why we can’t just enjoy the exciting moments. The first answer is that if we wouldn’t have contrast, we wouldn’t be thrilled by the thrilling moments. The Baal Shem Tov once said that uninterrupted pleasure is not pleasurable. Thrills are only thrilling when they are the exception. When they become the norm, they become routine.

The deeper answer is that the stage is set for the thrills by the boring moments that precede them. If the cast wouldn’t practice, the performance wouldn’t be spectacular. If the athletes wouldn’t train, their achievements would be mediocre. If the cooks wouldn’t prepare, the meal wouldn’t be gourmet.

The same is true for every aspect of life. The exciting highs are only possible because of the boring moments that precede them. That is when the real work gets done. That is when we fulfill the purpose of our existence. The thrilling moments are our reward, but the boring moments are our purpose. And in the end, the boring moments are not so boring because nothing is more thrilling than fulfilling our purpose.[2]

[1] On the other hand, this party highlighted the distinction of the Jewish people. While the Persians behaved likes boors, the Jews celebrated the Shabbos meal at their table, singing Jewish songs and sharing thoughts of Torah.

[2] This essay is based on Toras Moshe (Sofer) on Megilas Esther and Toras Menachem 5725:3, pp. 49–51.

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