Purim is one of the most joyous festivals in the calendar and is celebrated
with an overflow of buoyant spirits and loving affinity with fellow Jews.
The history behind the festival has timeless lessons that are as relevant
today as they were for our people in the times of Megillas Esther.
At the end of a seventy-year exile period in Babylon, the Jewish people
expected to be redeemed, in line with a well-known prophecy passed down the
generations after the Destruction of the Holy Temple. When the seventy-year
mark passed and they remained in exile, gloom and feelings of having been
rejected by G-d began to eat away at the Jewish soul. As the events of the
Purim story unfolded, with Haman's ascent to power and his vicious plot to
annihilate the Jews, the situation seemed more and more hopeless. In the
depths of their despair, Mordechai and Queen Esther emerged as Hashem's
tools of salvation. The Babylonian exile and the nation's trials and
tribulations were then acknowledged as purposeful and meaningful. The entire
nation re-embraced Torah and mitzvos with renewed faith and devotion.
The Purim message is meant to uplift and fortify us not only on Purim but
day in and day out, as we encounter the full gamut of life's challenges. At
the conclusion of this week's Torah portion, the last in the book of Shemos,
there is another important message that can assist us as we encounter the
many bumps in our life journey that test our faith and endurance.
The Torah tells us that the Jewish people were accompanied in the their
desert travels by a miraculous pillar of cloud during the day. At nighttime
they were led by a pillar of fire that never left the camp. What insight can
we glean from this miraculous phenomenon? What was the significance of these
two symbols of G-d's presence that never once deserted the people during the
40-year odyssey across the wilderness, until they entered the Promised Land?
I believe that the Torah is imparting to us a very important message. The
first test recorded in the Torah that was given to Avrohom Avinu was
Hashem's command to 'leave your land, your birthplace, and your parental
home to the land that I will show you." Hashem shrouded Avraham's
destination in obscurity. The commentaries explain that this obscurity was
an essential part of his challenge.
As we move along the road of life, we often feel unsure of our ultimate
destination. Each stage of our lives is fraught with worry. Will we find our
bashert? Will we be blessed with children? Will we be able to raise them
properly? Will we be able to provide for our families? Will we marry off our
children? Will we succeed in our career goals? The list goes on and on.
Even when things seem to be as clear as day, our goals often seems to be
shifting. When we finally conquer the peak and momentarily enjoy the
plateau, there invariably looms another peak up ahead whose summit is in the
The pillar of cloud that led the Jewish people throughout the wilderness at
each stage of their journey symbolizes the ever-shifting end point that
tends to elude us we make our way through life's vicissitudes. Just as the
Jewish people continued traveling into a cloud and the cloud itself kept
moving forward, so in life we need to stay on course and keep moving
forward, even if our ultimate destination appears blurred or elusive.
At times we are beset with a mist of darkness and long for sunlight. We
sometimes feel a clammy feeling welling within us, urging us to abandon our
spiritual struggles. We are unmotivated. We feel overwhelmed and paralyzed.
Life's challenges seem overwhelming.
At times like these we need to allow ourselves to be led by the "pillar of
fire," our internal spiritual compass that will lead us in the right
direction. We follow our instincts-not our emotional, impulsive instincts,
but the voice of conscience and the whispering of our soul. This thought is
embodied in the pillar of fire that led the Jewish people at night through
their sojourn in the wilderness.
I fondly treasure memories of the close relationship I merited to have with
the great Reb Sholom Noach Berzovsky, the Nesivas Sholom of blessed memory.
He was a giant of spirit, always bursting with an optimistic and positive
approach to life although he was extremely frail, thin and of a physically
diminutive stature. I once asked him, "Rebbe you are so weak and you suffer
physical ailments. How do you always seem to display such strength and
I recall the smile that broke out on his face as he told me, "Naftali, I
always feel that I am simply a sack of bones with a neshama that is moving
me along. I long gave up on relying on my body to propel me forward in life."
The pillar of fire, our neshamos, that connects us to our heavenly source
can also serve as our spiritual guide as we move into life's uncharted
waters, urging us to press on and not to surrender to fear. Knowing Hashem
is with us, illuminating the darkness and lighting the way forward, infuses
us with strength.
The more we internalize the message of the pillar of cloud and fire, the
more it will fortify us with reassurance and confidence in our life's path,
ensuring that we realize its ultimate, blissful destination.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Naftali Reich
Text Copyright © 2014 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.