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.
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