ABOUT FACE - PURIM 5760-2000

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

One of the Torah thoughts that I like to say about Purim is from the sefer "Drash Moshe" in Hebrew, p. 67, by Hagaon Rabbi Moishe Feinstien, z.t.l. (also cited in Artscroll Megillah on this verse from "Bastion of Faith")

He discusses the name of the holiday "Purim" because of the pur-the lot that Haman drew in order to decide which month to annihilate the Jews (Esther 9:26).

He asks, "…the name (of a Holiday) teaches us the main concept of the Holiday, and this concept of the lots is not a major theme of Purim, (so why is the name Purim)?

Evidently, the lesson from this is, that a person shouldn't think that when Hashem has already given him good fortune and blessing that it's already in his hand (guaranteed) and there is no longer any need to seek Hashem's salvation.

Rather he should feel that just as he must pray to Hashem before he gets it, so too must he pray even after Hashem has given it to him, for one does not know what his lot is. We see this from Haman. Even though his lot (in the beginning) was for his benefit, later it was for his detriment and for the benefit of the Jews. This is a very important principle in Belief of Hashem that we should learn from this Holiday. That is why this name (Purim) is the most befitting of all."

Of course we see this lesson in everyday life how very wealthy people can overnight lose their fortune to the whims of the stock market (which of course is just one of the messengers of Hashem to give or take away sustenance)

We also see the other side of the coin in Purim, how a situation that looks so bleak and desperate can all of a sudden, make a "turnabout" and be a tremendous benefit for its recipient. As it says in the Megillah (Esther 9:1) "… and there was a turnabout that the Jews dominated over their enemies."

A few weeks ago I was privileged to attend a Bar Mitzvah in St Louis that brought this point home. It was of a boy who came to live with his uncle in St. Louis, at the age of 11 1/2 and didn't even know Aleph Beit. Yet here he was, a mere year and a half later, a true Ben Torah who lained the Torah and Haftorah and spoke beautifully about his yearnings to be a true Ben Torah.

Before I left to St. Louis from Israel, I was informed by the guys in the Yeshivah (Neveh Zion) that the St Louis Rams had just won the Super Bowl. This was news to me on two accounts. First of all, I thought the Rams were in Los Angeles. Second of all, I didn't know that the Super Bowl had been played. See what you miss by moving to Israel.

Anyway when I arrived in New York before going to St. Louis I visited the Yeshiva "Shaar Yoshuv" in Far Rockaway to see some of the Neveh Alumni. Over there, as Hashgocho would have it, I was told by one of our alumni, Gershom Paretzky, the amazing dismal history of the St Louis Rams of yesteryear and their miraculous turnabout this year. Of course, he also briefed me on the no less amazing biography of their quarterback, Kurt Warner.

Armed with my new vital information, when I spoke at the Bar Mitzvah I made use of it. I mentioned how "… St. Louis is a land of miracles and heroes as we see from the Rams, Kurt Warner, and of course, who can forget Mark McGwire? In case you did, he hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998.

But all of these so-called "miracles and heroism" pale in the light of the real hero that is with us tonight in St. Louis, the Bar-Mitzvah boy. In fact, as much as we all came here to inspire the Bar Mitzvah boy, there is no doubt that more than we could have inspired the Bar mitzvah boy, he has inspired us."

A person must learn never to lose hope or give up.

In fact, I saw some beautiful stories in the book, "Chicken Soup of the Soul" which stress this point.

One is about Thomas Edison who invented the light bulb. He had tried over 2,000 experiments before he got it to work. A young reporter asked him how it felt to fail so many times. He said, "I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2000 -step process."

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it did not ring off the hook with calls from potential backers. After making a demonstration call, President Rutherford Hayes said, "That's an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?"

I will end off with a story from the same book that is really a story within a story. It is called "The Magic Pebbles" by John Wayne Schlatter.

This schoolteacher, Mr. Schlatter, tells how he would handle one of the most frequently uttered questions in his teaching career, "Why do we have to learn all this dumb stuff?"

He would answer by recounting the legend of "The Magic Pebbles."

One evening a group of nomads were suddenly surrounded by a Heavenly light which gave them a special message, "Gather as many pebbles as you can. Put them in your saddle bags. Travel a day's journey and tomorrow night will find you glad and it will find you sad."

The nomads, who were expecting some profound message and advice, were disappointed with such a menial task that made no sense to them. However, they were so inspired by the great light that they each picked up a few pebbles and put them in their saddle bags.

They traveled a day's journey and at night while making camp they looked into their bags and discovered that every pebble had become a diamond. They were glad they had diamonds. They were sad that they didn't get more pebbles.

Mr. Schlatter then tells of an experience he had that illustrated the truth of that legend to him.

He had a student, early in his career, who was very troublesome. He was a bully, a thief and always getting suspended. Everyday, Mr. Schlatter would have the class memorize some famous inspirational sayings and repeat them at roll call. Among them were, "If you can see the obstacles, you've taken your eyes of the goal.", "There is no failure except in no longer trying." This troublesome student complained the most about this routine until he was expelled from the school. They lost touch for five years when all of a sudden the student called Mr. Schlatter.

He was at a special program at one of the neighboring colleges and had just finished parole.

He told Mr. Schlatter, that after being sent to different prisons for his antics he had become so disgusted with himself that he had taken a razor blade and cut his wrists.

"You know what , Mr. Schlatter, as I lay there with my life running out of my body, I suddenly remembered that dumb quote you made me write 20 times one day. 'There is no failure except in no longer trying.' Then it suddenly made sense to me. As long as I was alive, I wasn't a failure, but if I allowed myself to die, I would most certainly die a failure. So with my remaining strength, I called for help and started a new life."

At the time that he heard the quotation it was just a pebble. When he needed guidance in a moment of crisis, it had become a diamond. And so it is with all of us we should gather all the pebbles we can and we can count on a future full of diamonds. Till here is the story.

Of course, all of this may be true concerning secular wisdom, but Lehavdil elef havdolos, the words of Torah are more precious than diamonds the very moment we learn them. And if secular wisdom can help in the future, then certainly Torah wisdom will inspire and help us immediately if we only internalize them.

May Hashem help us to learn the lessons of Purim and internalize them so that we can live them throughout the rest of year.

Have a Happy Purim.

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