When we think of miracles, we think of the great grand gesture. We think of the splitting of the sea, of the ten plagues, of fire and brimstone and bushes engulfed in flames that refuse to burn. The story of Purim is the one anomaly when it comes to this. If you read the Megillah, The Book of Esther, you’ll discover that there’s not one single mention of G-d. During a time in our history where the vast Jewish community of the Persian empire was about to be annihilated, it seemed as if G-d had abandoned us and that Esther and Mordechai were the miracle-makers of our ultimate salvation. But when you delve a little deeper and start reading between the lines, you can see how what might seem a series of small inconsequential coincidences and happenstance was in reality the hand of G-d, quiet and subtly maneuvering everyone into position in order to save His people.
My grandfather, Elimelech Good, z”l (may his memory be a blessing) was unlucky enough to be born at the wrong time. As a young man in his early twenties during the horrific years of World War Two, and being doubly unlucky as to have been born in Eastern Europe, he was sent to a concentration camp called Blachenheimer. Many people struggle with where G-d was at this time. After all, it’s a question I had asked him many many times while he was still alive. He never really answered me other than to say that he still believed, that his faith was unshakable and that was all that really mattered to him.
What I did know about some of his remarkable story was that he had smuggled in a very small pair of tefillin into the camp. Because he was young and strong, he was placed in a work camp upholstering furniture for the Nazis. His supervisor caught him putting on his tefillin early one morning. My grandfather described the abject horror that engulfed him as he contemplated that these were most likely his last moments on earth. He said it was like the world froze for a moment and time stood still. The two men, the Jew and the Nazi were standing face to face and they both knew that the Nazi held the life of this young Jewish man in the palm of his hand. The Nazi finally broke the thick silence and said to my grandfather, “I will come into this factory at precisely 7 AM. That’s when I will come in. Not before. Okay?” With his heart beating so fast that it was almost climbing out of his chest, my grandfather understood. And from that day on, my grandfather entered the factory at 6:45 and put on his tefillin.
When the Allies started bombing the enemy and the end of the war was imminent, the Nazis started abandoning ship, sometimes leaving the camps unmanned and the prisoners bewildered. On one hand they were afraid to leave, thinking it was a ploy, but on the other, they were afraid to stay thinking this was their last chance to escape. And my grandfather found himself in exactly this predicament. He said that there was terrible chaos. The Nazis were running around in a panic, some leaving, some trying to kill as many Jews at the last minute as they could. My grandfather hid in a barrack filled with bags of flour and, when a Nazi came bursting through the door and opened fire, he jumped out through an open window and that little pair of tefillin that he had miraculously put on every single day he was in the camp, fell out. That was, incidentally, the day he was finally freed.
While there’s a small part of me that still asks where G-d was during those hellish years, a larger part of me understands that He was there, present in that small pair of tefillin, protecting my grandfather for as long as he needed His protection. It was my grandfather’s hidden miracle, a miracle that was certainly not obvious or clear until much later when he was able to see it with complete clarity for what it was.
We are living in very complicated and dangerous times. The enemy, our modern-day Haman, is quite clear and quite upfront, unapologetic and public about their desire to wipe us off the face of the earth. And I think that’s why this holiday is so important and so much more meaningful than just dressing up and eating way too much sugar. It’s to remind us not to lose hope, not to question and wonder where G-d is in the middle of this huge mess that is this world.
The reading of the Megillah is to serve as a reminder that there are so many hidden miracles that occur every single day that enables our people to still survive against all odds. Miracles performed by innocent bystanders who were minding their own business, waiting for the bus or standing at the corner, who, unbeknownst to them, were at exactly the right place at the right time. Regular joes who were subsequently jump-started by a jolt of bravery-laced adrenaline to heads towards — and not away from — a terrorist stabber with nothing but their guitar, their selfie-stick or their umbrella in their hands. And the countless miracles that our soldiers perform day in and day out so that we can live our lives in relative peace. On the surface, these events might seem coincidental, but they’re not. They were performed by human heroes acting with the guidance of G-d. And we celebrate Purim to remind us of that. They are, and will continue to be, our own hidden miracles.