My megila is amongst my most treasured possessions. I purchased it in Gateshead-upon Tyne, England, powerhouse of Torah learning, during the period in the mid-1980s that I was chazzan and assistant rabbi in neighbouring Newcastle. I bought it from the much-respected Gateshead sofer, Rabbi Sohn – it came with his unqualified haskama (high recommendation) which was good enough for me. The fact that the ktav (handwritten script) was just about the most breathtakingly beautiful that I have ever seen was an added bonus!
I came late to megila reading. I started leyening the Torah on a regular weekly basis when I took on the Newcastle post in 1982, shortly before my wife and I got married. My senior colleague Rabbi Moshe Baddiel zl and I alternated on Shabbat between the two shuls then comprising the Newcastle upon Tyne United Hebrew Congregation. On Purim the two shuls held a joint megila reading. Rabbi Baddiel loved leyening megila and was happy to do so every year so I never needed to prepare the megila reading.
When in 1986 I took on the role as sole rabbi in Leicester, I figured I had to learn it. However there was much to do in the kehila or maybe I had just gotten lazy. I invited a good friend who was an expert megila reader (indeed some of the nuances of my reading I learned from him) to come to Leicester the first Purim and he agreed. And so the next year and the next! Then he got a position in a small regional community and I knew the time had come for me to learn. Besides, I thought with shame, I have a beautiful megila just waiting to be read. It was high time! And so I learned it and learned to love to leyn it.
When I came from Leicester to Central Synagogue, Sydney, at first Rabbi Ernest Wolff zl was the megila reader in shul but I used to do private readings.. Eventually, Rabbi Wolff handed over the megila ‘reins’ to me. And so we come to that fateful Purim evening in Sydney well over two decades ago where my story begins.
I was living then diagonally opposite from the Adass Shul in Bondi.. I left home for Mincha at my shul, Central, to the accompaniment of a gusty wind. My megila was in its snug heavy-duty-cardboard cylindrical tube casing, tucked under my arm. There had been no sign of rain but as I crossed to the Adass side, in true unpredictable Sydney fashion it began to drizzle. I sheltered the Megila under my light coat and hurried, not wanting to risk getting my megila at all damp. I was early and decided to stop off for a moment in another shul to see somebody. As I got to Central, they were about to start Mincha.
I went to bring out my megila from under my coat and had the shock of my life. I was holding an empty tube with a stopper in place only at one end. The megila had gone!
Somewhere between home and Central, one of the stoppers had evidently become dislodged underneath my coat and what with the wind and the drizzle I hadn’t noticed the scroll fall silently to the ground.
After a hastily-davvened shemone esre, I dashed out of shul and retraced my steps, Firstly I looked in at the shul where I had stopped off – my hope was that it had fallen out there. It hadn’t.
I had about twenty minutes until maariv. I continued to retrace my steps as far as home. I am not sure if I dreaded more the prospect of finding it in the ground rain-sodden or not finding it at all. The good news was that it did not appear to be anywhere on the wet ground. The bad news was that it was nowhere else to be seen.
My mind raced. Anyone could have picked it up. Could it be lying somewhere, Heaven forbid, in a garbage bin?
I had no choice but to return to Shul. I knew the Shul had a megila but I had never looked at it. It had not been taken out for goodness knows how many years as my predecessor had also always read his own. Was the Shul megila in a clear ktav? Was it even still kosher?
Devastated, I ran back to Shul. There were still a few minutes before maariv, long enough to offer a heartfelt prayer to the One Above to make a miracle happen! Realistically, I knew that the chances of being reunited with my megila, certainly in time to read it, were virtually zero. One does not write on a klaf (parchment). So there was nothing on my megila to identify its owner.
I must confess that I davened a maariv the sombre mood of which was more in keeping with Tisha b’Av than Purim.
I was just stepping back at the end of Shemone Esre when I heard the sound of running feet behind me. Before I had time to look I got an urgent tap on the shoulder. Rabbi Ingram! Rabbi Ingram! Is this your Megila?
Was I dreaming?
I turned around to see a young man I knew well, Yonatan, the son of a good friend, with an outstretched megila in his hand. I had barely the time, let alone the words, to thank him. I think my mouth must have been as open as the mouth of the Sydney Cross-City Tunnel! Elated, I raced up to the Bima in preparation to read the megila. My megila! The megila that b’siyata diShemaya came back to me just in time!
Later that night, when everybody was in a celebratory mood but none more so than me, I managed to elicit the answer to my burning question: How on earth had Yonatan known the megila was mine?
The explanation came in short order. Yonatan had had no idea to whom it belonged. He had found the Megila outside the Adass building. It must have been dropped at the very moment I shielded it (or so I had thought) under my coat. Because of the wind and the rain and my haste to get to Central, I hadn’t noticed. I had been shielding an empty box all that time.
I was relieved to hear that it had fallen in an area sheltered by trees. Also Yonatan’s account revealed it must have been found very soon after I dropped it. This explained the fact that it was, thankfully, not damaged in the slightest. (Nevertheless, I did have it checked by a sofer prior to the following Purim and was reassured it was still perfect.)
Yonatan’s family are Sefardim who daven at the Bet Yosef minyan downstairs from Adass. Yonatan had taken it in and everyone wondered who could have dropped it.
Suddenly, one person ambled over, took a look, and declared: “I’m almost certain this is Rabbi Ingram’s megila!”
It turned out that he was one of my geirut (conversion) students. He had come for a lesson just a couple of days earlier and I had shown him my megila. He told me later that while he had nothing with which to compare as he had not seen any other megilot, he felt my megila had a certain quality and character that made him able to identify it. He was probably referring to the exquisite ktav.
Anyway upon hearing this, Yonatan fleet-footed his way to Central and another mini-Purim miracle was born! Since that time I am careful to show my Megila to all my students! And I have been zoche to leyn from it several times every Purim and I hope to bez”H for many many years to come be-gezunt.
As remarkable as the event itself was the fact that it occurred on Purim.
The nes (miracle) of Purim is unlike that of Chanuka. There are no nature-defying lights burning eight days instead of one. Every event chronicled in the Megila when examined singly could be put down to coincidence. But as the story unfolds the “coincidences” become uncanny. Vashti falls foul of the king and a new queen is sought. Out of all the eligible maidens, Esther just “happens” to become that queen despite her best attempts not to. Mordechai just “happens” to be in the right place at the right time to overhear two men plotting to kill the king and to understand their unusual language. He just “happens” to be in a position to tell Esther who tells the king of the plot in Mordechai’s name. The king just “happens” to have a book of chronicles to record such events. He just “happens” to allow his compassion for Esther’s vulnerability to overcome his anger at her having come to him unbidden. The king, unable to sleep that night, just “happens” to allow his stream-of-consciousness to prompt him to wonder if there was anyone whom he had failed to reward properly whereupon he asks for the book of records to be brought. Haman just “happens” to come in to ask to hang Mordechai at the very moment the king reads in the chronicle that Mordechai saved his life. Charvona, an attendant of the king, just ‘happens’ to pop up and inform the king of a gallows at the time his anger towards Haman is at its seething peak. All these things just “happen”, But of course they don’t just happen. There is an unseen Hand guiding all. That unseen Hand is depicted by the hidden Name of G-D, absent in a verbal sense from the Megila but right there writ large between the lines.
My mini-nes too did not have any supernatural qualities. But that my megila was dropped where it was, that it was picked up by whom it was, that it was seen and recognised by whom it was and that it was reunited with its owner just seconds before it was needed – all this points to only one thing: the loving, caressing hand of a loving G-D who cares for all His creatures, big and small.
And if our eyes are open wide even more, we shall see that G-D’s loving caress, His personal care, His hashgacha p’ratit (D-vine Providence) is evident not only on the Purims of our life but indeed every single day of our life!