Parshas Vayikra (5771)
If you look at the way the very first word in the Book of Leviticus (which we begin reading publicly this Shabbos) is written in any Torah scroll anywhere in the world, you will see something very strange. The word Vayikra is written with a small letter alef at the end. Our Sages teach us that the miniature alef indicates that the word can be read two ways – either with the alef as Vayikra, meaning “And He [G-d] called”, or without the alef as Vayikar, which means “And it happened”.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes that there are two ways to view the events that occur in our lives and world history in general. For those who do not believe in G-d’s Hashgachah Pratis, His Divine Providence over the affairs of mankind, things just “happen” and are mere coincidence with no ultimate meaning. However, the believing Jew knows that there are no coincidences, and that everything that unfolds in our lives is really G-d “calling” to us, with a particular message that we need to learn.
As Rabbi Shimon Schwab wrote in his commentary on the Book of Job: “The doctrine of Divine Providence lies at the heart of our faith. It teaches that man’s life on earth is not subject to coincidence and happenstance; rather, all of man’s activities, his weal and his woe, are closely supervised by G-d …”
Truth be told, it is not always so easy to understand and decipher G-d’s message in all that happens in our lives. But if we look carefully (and with an open mind) at our past history, we can discover a great network of intricate plan and purpose, which will make us aware of G-d’s guiding hand in the seemingly random events in our lives. And by examining world history, we can also see G-d’s guidance in the affairs of nations.
This idea that G-d guides the affairs of mankind “behind the scenes” is powerfully illustrated in Megillas Esther, the Scroll of Esther – which is read publicly in synagogues around the world on the holiday of Purim (this year the Megillah will be read on Saturday night March 19th and again on Sunday March 20th). In fact, even the name Megillas Esther reflects the idea of G-d’s “hidden” supervision of the events of history. The word Megillas comes from the Hebrew word l’galos, “to reveal”, while the Hebrew name Esther means “hidden” – so that the words Megillas Esther read together mean “to reveal the hidden”.
When reading the Scroll of Esther, one can’t help but notice that G-d’s Name is not even mentioned once in the entire Megillah – which is strange considering that the Scroll of Esther is one of the 24 Books of the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible). [For a brief synopsis of the Purim story, see: www.njop.org/html/PurimBOE.html]
The truth is that G-d’s name was left out of the book on purpose. You see, the entire reason why we read the Scroll of Esther on Purim is to teach us that even though the events that unfolded in the Purim story seem to be random coincidences without G-d’s involvement and guidance – King Achashveirosh just “happened” to get drunk at the royal banquet and hanged his wife Queen Vashti, Esther just “happened” to be chosen at the beauty contest to be the new queen, Mordechai just “happened” to overhear an assassination plot against the king, etc. etc. – the reality is that G-d’s hand was involved in all that occurred, from the very beginning of the story to the very end.
And anyone who looks carefully into the Purim story will be able to see G-d’s Divine Providence at all times – even in the darkest moments. As Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi points out in his amazing commentary Yoseif Lekach on the Book of Esther, we can see G-d’s Ineffable Name (the four-letter Name of G-d spelled yud – hei – vuv – hei otherwise known as the Tetragrammaton) in code at both the highest point of the evil Haman’s rise to power when he alone was invited to attend a private party with the King and Queen, as well as at his downfall when Esther divulged her identity as a Jew and King Achashveirosh ordered that Haman be hanged.
The first letters of each of the four words of the phrase "Yavo HaMelech VeHaman Hayom – let the King and Haman come today [to the private party that Esther prepared - see Esther 5:4]” spell out the Ineffable Name of G-d. And later on in the story, when Haman fell from grace in the eyes of King Achashveirosh and realized “Ki Chalsah Eilav Hara’ah – that the [King’s] evil determination against him was final” (see Esther 7:7), the last letters of each of those four Hebrew words once again spell out G-d’s Name.
So that even though, to the casual observer, G-d was nowhere in sight during the unfolding of events in the Purim story, in reality G-d was very much there, albeit hidden, the entire time, and was the guiding force behind both the rise and fall of the wicked Haman.
The Talmud in Yoma 29a expounds on Psalm 22 which refers to “Ayeles HaShachar – the Doe of the Dawn”, and which, according to Rabbinic tradition, is replete with prophetic allusions to Queen Esther and the Purim story. The Talmud states that Esther can be compared to ‘dawn’ because “just as dawn marks the end of the night, so does the miracle of Esther mark the last of the miracles [recorded in the Scriptures].”
The commentators explain that after the Purim miracle, G-d would no longer perform miracles and have them recorded as prophetic messages for the Jewish people in order for them to see and believe in His Divine Providence. The reason for this is because after the Jewish people witnessed G-d’s obvious “hidden hand” in all the seemingly coincidental events that transpired in the Purim story, they no longer needed another miracle to teach them about G-d’s Hashgachah Pratis, His Divine guidance of human affairs. Indeed, the Megillah records that after the Jews were saved in such a miraculous way that only G-d could have orchestrated - many thousands of non-believers sought conversion to Judaism (see Esther 8:17).
What this means for all of us today living in a “post-Purim world” is that we need not wait for some ‘sign’ or ‘miracle’ to prove to us that G-d is really behind the scenes, running our lives, or even world affairs. The Purim story showed us once and for all that whether or not we comprehend all the events unfolding in our lives or in world affairs, nothing is coincidental or random. Everything happens for a reason and is part of G-d’s Master Plan.
There is a lot of political unrest and instability in the world today – especially in the Middle East – and governments are being overthrown with greater frequency. Radical Islamic groups the world over are threatening a Third Jihad. The world economy has taken a huge hit in recent years and gas prices are rising.
We can’t know exactly what G-d has in mind with all these major world events – after all, G-d’s plan is too grand for us to comprehend. But one thing we do know for sure – that things are happening for a reason, and that when this or that government falls, or when this or that person is elected President, it is somehow all part of G-d’s ultimate plan for mankind, paving the way for the Messianic Era, when all the nations of the world will live together in peace, united under the banner of the One True G-d.
[To better discern and appreciate G-d’s hidden hand in major historical events, I highly recommend reading the fascinating book The Hidden Hand: Uncovering Divine Providence in Major Events of the 20th Century by Yaakov Astor, published by The Judaica Press 2007. This book is guaranteed to change the way you think about world history!]