When the Rabbis instituted the Mitzvah of reading the Megillah (Megillas Esther, the Scroll of Esther) on Purim, they included a number of strict laws regarding the reading and writing of the scroll. One such law is to not read the Megillah backwards, meaning that each word must be read in order, from beginning to end, as recorded in the text. Someone who reads the middle of the story at the beginning, or rearranges the verses in a section, has not done the Mitzvah properly and would have to read it again.

The Bnei Yissaschar, a Hassidic classic by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov (1783-1841), offers a clever spin on the Talmud’s wording of this law. In his interpretation, “one who reads the Megillah backwards” refers to someone who reads the Megillah as if it were simply a piece of history that has come and gone, has not fulfilled his obligation.

While it’s debatable whether the Sages of the Talmud encrypted this subtle message in the phrasing of the law, there’s no arguing the truth of his message.

Celebrating Purim as simply Mordechai and Esther’s victory over the wicked Haman misses the point of Purim. For this, the Sages would not have instituted a yearly public reading and celebration. The turn of events from Haman’s existential threat to the Jewish people, the rise of Mordechai, the reversal of the decree, and Haman’s own hanging, was recognized by all the Jewish people as G-d rescuing His people in response to their urgent prayers. In the wake of the First Temple’s destruction, an extended period of national mourning and depression, G-d turned world events on their head, heralding in a period of Jewish resurgence and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The message of the Megillah must be understood as lessons for today, not merely a record of history. The Megillah sends a message to the Jewish nation, whose survival is constantly threatened, and each time depends on G-d’s miraculous intervention. More personally, it’s a reminder to anyone threatened by their own challenges that although success or healing appear unattainable, turning to G-d has the power to reverse even the most hopeless circumstances.

Happy Purim!

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