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Waking G-d

I could lose my rabbi license for using this headline. (So far, no bolt of lightning has struck me). How dare anyone suggest that G-d needs an alarm clock? King David’s psalm emphatically states that He neither slumbers nor sleeps. G-d monitors every action and keystroke in real time. He never blinks, let alone snoozes.

King David also wrote, “Rouse Yourself! Why do you sleep, O’ L-rd?” Maybe the Deity does doze. Watching the news, you might feel that our protective Heavenly Father has nodded off.

Purim is a good time to learn about waking G-d. At Saturday night’s Megillah recital, the reader will raise his voice at the words, “On that night, the king’s sleep was disturbed.” That is the Purim pivot – the moment Achashverosh sat bold upright in bed and remembered that he owed one to Mordechai for saving his life. As the monarch mulls a fitting reward for his Jewish courtier, Haman arrives to present his plan to hang the Jewish leader. Haman’s demise and the Purim miracle result from Achashverosh waking in a sweat.

The Megillah is a cryptic text that conceals the real story behind layers of coincidence. G-d remains anonymous throughout the storyline, but our Sages detect that the “The King” mentioned in the scroll implies the King of kings. On the night that the Achashverosh was startled awake on Earth, G-d was roused too.

We appreciate that G-d does not sleep, just as He does not grow angry or “outstretch” His arm. Scripture is replete with allegorical references to the Almighty to make His interaction with our reality relatable. We should strip these metaphors of their human qualities to decode what they tell us about G-d.

During sleep, our rational minds give way to the chaotic fictions of dreams. Order and hierarchy collapse into a surrealistic landscape where nonsense makes sense. When we say that G-d is “asleep,” we mean He allows His world to descend into chaos. In the “sleep state,” evil thrives, and the Chosen People suffer. For reasons beyond human comprehension, G-d allocates periods of Divine “sleep,” which the Torah calls “Galut.” Geulah, emancipation, is when G-d awakens the world to its purpose and its people to love His children. Through centuries of deep sleep, we have echoed King David’s words, “Rouse Yourself! Why do you sleep, O’ L-rd?”

Purim is an outlier. In Esther’s time, G-d “woke up” prematurely, in the middle of a Galut – sleep phase. When the “king’s” sleep was disturbed, miracles started flowing. The burning question is, “What caused Hashem to ‘awaken’ earlier than expected?”

“Midah k’neged midah,” G-d relates to us as we relate to him. When we engage Him, He connects with us. If we turn our backs on Him, He takes two steps back. When we doze off spiritually, He hibernates.

Our sages analyze what the Jews might have done to deserve Haman’s genocidal threat. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai suggests that when the Jewish people bowed to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, G-d activated sleep mode. Haman offered the Jews an out. He scripted his edict against “Yehudim,” people who reject paganism in favor of the Jewish G-d. Any person who abandoned Judaism for idolatry would live. No Jew flinched. For months, as Haman’s genocidal threat hung over their heads, every Jew in Persia remained visibly committed to being Jewish. When the people woke up, it “woke” G-d.

“If you read the Megillah backwards,” says the Talmud, “you do not fulfill your obligation.” The Baal Shem Tov interprets that reading the Purim story as bygone history derails the holiday. The Purim story is dynamic and relevant and feels eerily familiar in 2024. Like in Ancient Persia, antisemitic hordes are agitating around the globe, bolstered by complacent or complicit governments. Hamas supporters channel Haman on the streets of Toronto, Manhattan, London and Melbourne. We may not have the stellar leadership of Mordechai and Esther, but the Jewish world snapped awake on October 7th. We have not seen such a Jewish revival since the original Purim.

When the Yehudim of ancient Persia roused their innate Jewish spark, G-d awakened His love and miracles for his children. In the words of the Megillah, the Jews emerged from a dark cloud to experience “light, joy and rejoicing.” When we quote that verse, we tack on “Kein tihye lanu,” so may it be for us.

The Jewish world is awake. Hashem, we are waiting and praying for Your move.

Based on a Purim discourse by the Lubavitcher Rebbe

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler is the director of Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group. Rabbi Shishler is also a special needs father. His daughter, Shaina has an ultra-rare neuroegenratove condition called BPAN. Rabbi Shishler shares Shaina's story and lessons about kindness and disability inclusion on his other blog, "Shaina's Brocha" and through lectures and Kindness Cookies teambuilding workshops.
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