Many important events mark our lives. But what value or significance would you attribute to a trivial experience, like, say, a case of insomnia?
On a broader scale how do you see your overall life: Is your life disjointed or cohesive? As you live from day to day, do you ever feel that in your struggle for survival you may be missing the bigger picture? Does the minutiae of your schedule (work, pressures) shroud your larger priorities – like finding love and building a relationship? In time of pain and anguish, are you able to recognize that these dark moments may be part of a greater story? Can you see the thread that connects the fragments of your journey, or do you just move from moment to moment, trying to make the best of what comes your way?
Well, Purim teaches us a thing or two about the seemingly random events in our lives.
The great codifier of Jewish law Maharil (Rabbi Yaakov Halevi, 1360-1427) writes, that the Megillah reader raises his voice when he begins reading the words in the Megiilah (the scroll read on Purim relating the entire Purim story) “that night the king’s sleep was disturbed,” because the primary Purim miracle begins at this point.
Due to his insomnia, the king ordered that the book of chronicles, which recorded the history of the king’s reign, be brought and read to him. The story they read was how Mordechai, a while back, had saved the king’s life from an assassination attempt. This evoked the king’s appreciation to reward Mordechai, which began a series of events, as related in the Megillah, which led to the Purim miracle rescuing the entire Jewish nation from annihilation.
This reflects one of the most powerful themes of Purim: What you see is not what you get. On the surface level, the king’s restless night – as well as many other seemingly unrelated and insignificant events in the story – would be dismissed as a trivial fluke. In truth, it turns out that this becomes a critical juncture that changed the course of history! Had the king slept peacefully (and why shouldn’t he?), he would not have been reminded of Mordechai saving his life and the rest of the narrative would never have unfolded as it had.
The Purim story – and the story behind the story – teaches us how to look at our lives in a completely new and revolutionary way.
The Talmud says: “On who reads the Megillah backwards has not fulfilled the mitzvah.” Why in the world would anyone want to read the story backwards?! The Baal Shem Tov explains the statement this way: Anyone who reads the Purim narrative as if it happened “back when” in the past (in effect, reading the story backwards, with the end being closer to us than the beginning), has not fulfilled the mitzvah, which demands of us to read and see the story as if it is unfolding and playing itself out today, from the beginning of the story till its conclusion.
The story of Purim is the story of our lives. Our lives, just like the Purim narrative, is driven by a hidden script, which is hard to recognize at the time, but in retrospect patterns emerge as we discover the underlying narrative that leads to salvation. A bigger picture takes shape from the connecting dots of seemingly disconnected events, including the smallest details that we may completely ignore and disregard due to their triviality.
Imagine: A man can’t fall asleep and the destiny of a people is changed forever! How many other quirky details in existence are affecting our very lives as we speak?
Long before Kierkegaard wrote that "you can only understand life backwards, but we must live it forwards," we have the story of Purim that tells us about the mysterious internal drama that shapes our outer lives. G-d's name is never mentioned in the entire Megillah, emphasizing that the Divine Choreographer remains behind the scenes, even as He orchestrates a series of events, which may appear random to us, when in fact they are frames of a larger drama unfolding.
Purim teaches us how to discern the hidden narrative playing itself out in our lives today. How to see the forest for the trees. It helps us transcend the moment and connect it to the birds' eye vision of your life story.
So the next time you cannot sleep – or experience some else seemingly trivial – you never know: It may be the beginning of your salvation.