Redemption by Reversal
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Redemption by Reversal

Redemption by Reversal

Unlocking the mystery behind Purim's unique, mystical redemption.

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While Hebrew is generally a very concise language, there are several concepts that seem to have been endowed with an abundance of synonyms. One such concept is "redemption." Considering Israel's seemingly endless struggle with oppression and bondage, it is not at all surprising. Thus, pidyon, ge'ulah, yeshuah, ezrah, hatzalah, and many more such terms. Each expresses a different sort of lifting of yet another type of yoke of oppression from the shoulders of Israel. Each, perhaps, by a different method of Divine salvation.

The most difficult and elusive of these terms seems to be hippuch (the Purim particular redemption which literally means reversal). Similarly, the Torah describes Israel's salvation from the curses of Bilaam as "And God reversed..." (Deut. 23:6). Also, the Gemara (Brachot 55b) says that a person who had a bad dream should say, "All my dreams should reverse for the good." But what is the meaning of redemption by reversal?

On a simple level, this refers to a situation where Israel has not only been saved from harm, but has used the situation for their own benefit. Thus, Bilaam's curse becomes a blessing, and Haman's downfall comes as part and parcel of Israel's being spared on Purim. But is this not merely a combination of two distinct events? True, Israel's salvation occurs simultaneously with the destruction of the wicked, but what makes these two events one phenomenon? Bilaam's curse is annulled, and Israel is also blessed. But in what way is the curse turned into a blessing?

Furthermore, not only is hippuch/reversal the form of the redemption of Purim, but it would seem that the redemption had to come through hippuch/reversal. The Maharal makes this clear in his discussion of the topic. He asks: "Why did Esther decree that the Jews take their revenge on 13 Adar, which was almost nine months after the date of her writing the ordinances to reverse Haman's decree? Would it not have been wiser for her to have convened the date at the earliest possible time? Wasn't there a chance that someone else would find some way of tampering with this new royal letter if they dallied so long before acting?"

The Maharal answers that the Megillah's events centered on hippuch, and hippuch/reversal could only occur if it took place on the same date as Haman's decree.

It is thus quite clear that this particular salvation of the Jewish people could not have been through any other medium but hippuch. On the very day of the very same month that the decree against Israel was to take place, the decree would be turned around for the good. But not prior to that date.

Clarification, however, is still needed: What is unique about the Purim miracle that it required a redemption through hippuch/reversal?

DIFFERENT ROADS TO EVIL

 

To better understand the concept of hippuch, we must first divide evil into its two major expressions. There is one manifestation of evil that results from the disregard of man's true goals. This takes place either when one is blind or apathetic to the Divine, or when one is pulled astray by temptations of lust or greed.

If one were to visualize service of God as traveling a road leading toward Godliness, then these types of yetzer hara, the evil inclination, could be pictured as either stopping in the middle of the road or simply going off the road at an angle. Never in this type of evil does the yetzer hara present itself as an alternative to truth -- but in the guise of a more comfortable, appealing lifestyle. Its power lies primarily in blocking man's vision entirely, or at least obfuscating the goal at the end of the road.

But there is a second form of evil, far more pernicious than the first. That is when evil presents itself as an alternative route to Godliness or poses as the Divine itself. No longer is it a question of straying from the road or becoming sidetracked; rather, it is a total reversal of the direction in which man is to be headed. Under this general rubric, we could include idolatry, kishuf (witchcraft), and perhaps extreme cases of ga'avah (self-aggrandizement).

If we wish to visualize it in terms of the road to Godliness, then this would be represented by an arrow pointing in the opposite direction, as if someone had lit a light at the wrong end of the road, beckoning the traveler to "progress" toward it.

ALL PATHS LEAD TO TRUTH

 

Accepting the basic differences in the essence of these two forms of evil, it follows that the rectification for each is very different. For the world to be rid of the first form of evil is a matter of people finding their way back on the road from which they have strayed. The temptation itself was never a challenge or contradiction to God's omnipresence; it was a matter of man, in his weakness, succumbing to the lure of the moment. When mankind achieves clarity of vision, the wisdom and self-discipline to move toward its true destination, this form of evil will effectively be expunged from the world. "And the earth will be filled with knowledge, as waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).

Not so with the second form of evil. So long as an alternative to God presents itself, then ipso facto the world has evil within it. Even if no one is beset by the temptation to follow this yetzer hara and everyone is focused on his goal of striving toward God, still the mere existence of such an alternative does not allow God's omnipresence to be manifest. There is, so to speak, the allowance of the possibility of something else, outside of the Almighty (God forbid). For this reason, the Almighty declares in regard to Amalek: "My throne is not complete until the name of Amalek is obliterated" (Exodus 16:17, Rashi). There can be no full revelation of the Divine as long as an "alternative" pretends to exist. Its total destruction is a prerequisite to tikun olam (perfection of the world).

But this is still not enough. When two people are engaged in a battle and one vanquishes the other, can we say that the defeated person never existed? The victor is now alone but by no means is he unique. Similarly, the concept of "God as Victor" still falls short of the vision of Hashem echad/God is one -- the singular uniqueness of God that we strive to experience. It is not enough to show that God is the mightiest. Nor is it sufficient to demonstrate that as of now nothing exists but God. The ultimate goal is the revelation that nothing can possibly exist but God, and therefore no alternative ever existed. God must be recognized as intrinsically the unique form of existence.

How do we accomplish this?

Let us return once more to our imaginary road. We have pictured the first form of evil as following a pursuit that takes the traveler off the main road, leaving him to wander off aimlessly. The second form of evil was depicted as an arrow pointed the other way, representing an alternative goal at the other end of the road. Let us join the follower of this perverse signal and travel this road with him.

On a two-dimensional surface, we will keep distancing ourselves from the true goal, forever widening the gap between traveler and destination. But if we are traveling on a globe, as we travel in the wrong direction, we continually distance ourselves from our goal -- until ultimately we do reach it! The "unity" of the surface of a globe means that there is no direction that leads definitively away from our goal. Yes, there are those directions that appear to be heading away. But in the end, they, too, bring the wanderer to the true goal.

The basic difference between these diametrically opposed approaches lies in their effect on the traveler. If the person chooses to take the direct route, he will arrive at his destination quickly and with relative ease, in constant assurance and awareness of the purpose of the journey. Not so the person who chooses to run the opposite way. It is a long and hard journey whose difficulty is compounded by the apparent destiny toward which his journey seems to be taking him. But when the person has finally distanced himself the furthest from God and His ways… he finds God again. As King David proclaimed: "Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, You are there. If I lodge in the lowest depths, behold You are there" (Psalms 139:7-8).

In one's personal pursuit of perverse goals -- whether in the guise of false gods or exaggerated self-importance -- one should ultimately come to the realization that the goals are hollow and meaningless. The end result of the long, long journey, then, is "there is nothing besides God in this world."

In those cases where the pursuer refuses to acknowledge the folly of his goals, his ultimate defeat is played out for others who follow the "progress" of the vain course he has charted. For them, at least, the hand of God is obvious, and His omnipotence is recognizable to all. The futile pursuit is worthwhile, after all, for the instructive role it assumes.

REVERSAL ON THE NATIONAL SCALE

The two categories of evil are true, not only regarding how the yetzer hara is manifest within each individual, but also regarding the character and nature of the nations opposing Israel, each nation personifying a different facet of evil. Two of Israel's enemies in particular pitted themselves against God: Amalek and Bilaam, each representing the second type of evil in a national format.

Bilaam was a genuine prophet, equaling Moses in his gift of prophecy. The Midrash even points out some aspects of Bilaam's prophecy that were superior to Moshe's. Bilaam did not simply ignore God and His wishes, as Pharaoh had done, saying, "Who is God?" Rather, he used his intelligence and creativity to try to coerce God into doing his (Bilaam's) bidding: He brought sacrifices to counter the effect of the patriarchs' sacrifices. And he came to assault Israel with their own gift -- the gift of "kol Yaakov", the voice of Yaakov,, the power of speech.

To have simply confounded Bilaam's plot would have left him victorious in a sense. He had stood up to God, so to speak, did his utmost to force His hand, and was defeated. There is victory of sorts in such a defeat, unless it could be demonstrated that he had never stood up against Israel and that his curses were really blessings. As a matter of fact, once they were so converted, it is only by analyzing the blessings that we can ever know what the intended imprecations were. Indeed, Bilaam's intended curse against the sanctity of the Jewish houses of worship transformed into "mah tovu ohalecha, Yaakov..." (how goodly are your tents, O Jacob...), a verse we say at the beginning of Shacharit, leading us into our daily service of God.

Thus we have our first instance of hippuch/reversal: "Vayahafoch -- And God converted the curse into a blessing because He loves you."

AMALEKITE LEGACY

 

The other enemy to stand up against God was Amalek. His defiance was not on the intellectual-spiritual plane of Bilaam. His attribute was rather a stiff-necked daring, an act of genuine self sacrifice in arrogantly posing himself in opposition to God and His people, Israel. True, he would be "burnt by the steaming bath" into which he had plunged, as Rashi depicts his foolhardy act, which resulted in his defeat in war. But he would nonetheless prove his point: that it is possible to defy God and demonstrate that he, Amalek, exists not because of God but in spite of Him. For God to simply limit Amalek's retribution to burning him in "the steaming bath" would in a way prove Amalek right. There is a viable path in defiance of God.

Needed instead is a method whereby Amalek's very efforts in and of themselves not only fail to impede Israel in its path toward Godliness, but actually further Israel in its goals!

This was first manifest in the "venahafoch hu" - reversal of Purim, the beginning of Amalek's downfall. Haman would not be -- and ought not be -- defeated, except on the very month and day that he himself had chosen for Israel's downfall. Had he himself not chosen to make a decree against Israel, he would never have been defeated. The advice he had offered, to endow himself with the final touch of royalty and glory, became the lever that eventually unseated him. The tree he had prepared for Mordechai's hanging became his own gallows, and so on throughout the Megillah. It was Haman, more than Esther, who destroyed Haman.

This is the essence of the hippuch/reversal process: the structure and substance remain as they were originally designed; it is the direction that is reversed. Thus, the same circumstances generate different results.

Victories against Amalek are meaningless; or, better said, they are genuine losses. The only measure that can be effective is one of "venahafoch hu."

AT THE END OF LIFE'S ROAD

 

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzatto in "Da'at Tevunot" elaborates on the theme of two routes to recognition of God.

Had Adam overcome his initial temptation and not eaten from the tree of knowledge, he would have been able to travel a straight road leading clearly toward God. He failed, however, and instead must stumble along a path through sin, pain, anguish, and death. Yet this path, too, ultimately leads to the same point of awareness of God’s oneness. This revelation would come only at the end of days; until then, man appears to be forever sinking deeper into a morass of sin and suffering. (If we would use our previous analogy of a person traveling a road, it would mean that not until man turns the final bend in the road does he perceive the ultimate truth.) Until then, he always seems to be going in the opposite direction, ever distancing himself from life's goal of recognition of God.

Bearing this passage from Rabbi Lutzatto in mind, we gain an added insight into the timing of Purim. It is during the last month of the year. If Israel's month for victory and redemption is Nissan, the first in the sequence of 12 months (rosh chadashim) then Adar would seem to be its Achilles' heel. Moses began his leadership in the month of Nissan and terminated it 40 years later in Adar. When the miracle of Purim took place, the era of kitvei Kodesh (the writing of Scripture) was coming to a close, with this to be the last miracle committed to writing. It was a time described as ayelet hashachar (the darkest part of the night).

But as we approach the point furthest away from the light, we begin to catch a glimmer of the very light we thought we were leaving behind. We recognize that history, in its overwhelming divergence and complexity, is really one road headed in the direction of universal acceptance of "Hashem echad, u'shemo echad", God is one and His name is one -- the omnipotence and all-embracing presence of God. That apparent division of paths -- one leading toward God and the other away from God, one to the sacred and one to the profane -- was an inaccurate and oversimplified understanding, a result of our limited, two-dimensional perceptions. But on Purim, we rise above the limited reach of our understanding, and for a brief moment we perceive that "blessed be Mordechai" and its hippuch/its reversal, "cursed be Haman," are really one and the same. Two paths to one destination!

Published: February 2, 2003


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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Chaya, March 3, 2004 12:00 AM

Thank You

We have enjoyed reading the articles on this website. Much of which we teach our children about Purim has been backed up in many of the articles. It's always nice to show our children that we do know a few things.

(1) Adam, March 14, 2003 12:00 AM

That is ethereal bliss; Hashem will have his way: for He is Echad; the only ONE!

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