Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787–1859), known as the Kotzker Rebbe, was one of the great and influential Chassidic masters of the 18th century. As a child he was asked, “Where is God?” Young Menachem Mendel replied, “God is everywhere!” In his later years he was asked by his Chassidm the same question but gave a very different answer. “Where is God, you ask, wherever you let Him in.”
What accounts for the divergent responses? A child sees everything with a fresh sense of wonder and marvel. Innocent and unburdened by the weight of life‘s challenges, he possesses of a clarity of vision that beholds the Divine underpinning of every aspect of human experience. As we age and encounter difficulty and disappointment, there are two responses we can offer to understanding why things don’t develop as smoothly as we would like. Often, the immediate response is to increasingly deny God’s involvement in affairs of this world, attributing our troubles to random happenstance. Alternatively, we can assimilate the eternal lessons of our holy Torah which teaches that all of the circumstances in our lives are orchestrated by Hashem for our ultimate good, even if we can’t recognize it in the moment. Our mandate is to remain loyal to Hashem’s Torah, His instructions for life, confident that its path will lead to salvation and fulfillment.
The story of Purim highlights the truth and veracity of this second approach. Initially, the Jews of ancient Persia blamed righteous Mordechai for the terrible decrees of destruction that befell them. After all, it was his stubborn resistance to bow before the evil Haman that imperiled their very existence. They saw simple cause and effect in the way things developed.
Mordechai, however, a man steeped in the knowledge of Torah and committed to its steadfast observance, understood that when a decree of national magnitude was leveled against the Jewish people, it was a clear sign from Above that the entire nation was being called to Teshuva, repentance, and that the only way they could be saved was by strengthening their dedication to Torah observance.
Viewed in its totality, the Purim narrative now takes on much deeper meaning than a random series of events. The twists and turns and surprising resolution become a clear sign of the hidden hand of God guiding events every step of the way, all of which was intended to awaken the Jews to this very reality.
Consider, Mordechai sent Esther to beseech King Achashveirosh, literally a suicide mission since visiting the King uninvited was sure grounds for the death penalty. Nevertheless, Esther demonstrated her determination to sacrifice for Hashem, His Torah and His people, casting concerns for her own welfare aside. Even so, when Achashveirosh spared her, she acted in a manner that would confound the Jewish people’s hope by inviting their arch enemy, Haman, to a special party with the King. This spurred the Jewish people to greater levels of repentance as they realized their last and only hope was deliverance from Hashem.
In the end, the trajectory of history was reversed in an instant. Haman was hung on the very tree he had designed to kill Mordechai. Against all odds, the Jewish people prevailed against their enemies and Mordechai was appointed to the position of Prime Minister of Persia, second only to King Acashveirush.
The Jews then realized, much with the childlike clarity of the young Kotzker, that God is indeed everywhere. And they re-accepted the Torah in their days with a complete and unconditional love that surpassed that of their ancestors who had originally received the Torah at Sinai. For while the Sinai experience was accompanied by open revelation of God’s presence, the Purim story taught us that Hashem is here even when we can’t see Him. And when we live in accordance with His will as manifest in our precious Torah, we will merit discerning His outstretched hand in all of our affairs.
So, let Hashem into your lives and see His presence throughout the world.
I convey to you my sincerest wishes of abundant blessing, joy and spiritual fulfillment for you and your families on this Purim festival and always.
Special Thanks to: Rabbi Avraham Shalom Farber and Yehudah Leib Meth, for the Translation