February 25, 2021 / Adar 13, 5781 • Parshat Tetzaveh
Issue 655
Dedicated in loving memory of Mrs. Miriam Friedman


On that night, the King's sleep escaped him.
He told his attendants to bring the book of records, the chronicles,
and they were read before the King.

Esther 6:1

Our sages state that this verse if the essence of the Purim miracle.

The King's insomnia and subsequent honor to Mordechai is, in fact, a

satisfying bit of irony, but is it the essence of the miracle?

The answer lies in the verse’s introductory words: "On that night."

These words convey the spiritual setting of the miracle of Purim,

one of absolute darkness. When something is obvious,

sitting right in front of us, we say, “This idea, this object.”

The word “that,” as opposed to “this,” refers to something

out of reach. The word “night,” of course, evokes the darkness,

when we cannot “see” or discern what is valuable and good.

Both words, then, allude to the elusiveness of G-d,

His distance and invisibility.

This redundancy underscores the tragedy of Divine

concealment. It is a “doubled darkness”—when the

darkness itself is concealed, when we cannot even

name our illness, it is “that,” not “this.” Knowing that we

are ailing spiritually is one thing; to be unaware of it is


A story: One evening, a group of Chasidim were

sitting at a farbrengen—an informal gathering devoted

to introspection—and needed more wine. They sent one

fellow to the wine cellar. As he descended the steps, he

exclaimed, “It’s dark down here!” “Wait a few minutes,”

one man said, “and your eyes will become accustomed

to the dark.” R. Hillel of Paritch, a legendary Chasid,

commented, “Yes. Eventually we confuse darkness for


This is the state of the Jewish national soul at the time

of the Purim story—estranged from G-d and unaware

of its estrangement.

It is axiomatic to Judaism that G-d responds to our

behavior. When we are oblivious of G-d, He retreats

from view. In place of asserting His presence in our

world, He seems to be absent.

This is the second esoteric detail of the verse: "The

King," alluding to G-d, was “sleeping.” Exile, galut, is a

time of Divine slumber, because G-d does not seem to

impose order and coherence in the world. The righteous

suffer while the wicked prosper. This darkness, though,

is of our own making.

This leads to the miracle hidden in this opening verse,

The king’s sleep was disturbed: Despite the spiritual

lethargy that plagued the Jewish people in the decades

leading up to Haman’s decree, they were still able to

“awaken G-d” with newfound devotion. Even in the

thick darkness of exile, when the Jewish people were

ignorant of their own distance, they still found a way to

summon their fervor. This spiritual feat “awoke” G-d

from His “sleep,” and He began to reveal His providence

in creation once again. This reawakening of the soul and

of G-d is the essence of the Purim miracle.


But notice that although the King awakens, it is still

night. Even after the miraculous events of Purim, the

Jews remained in exile. They did not become devout

Jews, scrupulously adhering to the law, piously spending

their days in prayer and charity. This is the paradox of the

Purim miracle: Only the deepest manifestation of G-d

can wring miracles from the darkness itself. Although

the exile remains in place, the exceedingly long reach

of G-d pierces the veil of darkness to work miracles.

This is the significance behind the custom of raising

one’s voice when reciting this verse. When there is

distance between us and another, we reach deep within

for the strength to shout across the divide. This verse

tells of how our distance elicited a deeper response

from G-d, one that could work miracles even from

within a dark exile.

—from the Kehot Megillah