י״ב באדר ב׳ ה׳תשע״ד (March 14, 2014)
G-d And Shabbat Life Savers, Malaysian Flight 370 And The Miracle Of Purim [Parshat Tzav By Rabbi Zalman Lent]
This Saturday night and Sunday we celebrate Purim, the happiest day of the Jewish year. Men, women and children alike participate in the carnival-like atmosphere of fancy dress, food and laughter, alongside the four mitzvot of the day: Hearing the Megillah readings, having a Purim se’udah (feast), giving food to friends and charity to the poor.
Purim commemorates a great miracle for the Jewish people who lived in the Persian empire under the rule of the wicked King Achashveirosh. The king, following the lead of his advisor Haman, had ordered his citizens to annihilate the Jews of his kingdom on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. Only the intervention and prayers of Mordechai, Esther, and the Jews of Shushan averted this terrible decree. This miraculous salvation is what Purim celebrates.
The miracle of Purim, however, was not an open one. It was not a jaw-dropping spectacle which defied the laws of nature, like the Splitting of the Sea would have done. Haman’s evil machinations, and Queen Esther’s subsequent successful strategies all appeared as coincidences … coincidence that she was made Queen, coincidence that Mordechai had saved the king’s life before, coincidence that the King couldn’t sleep … and so on. The entire story is a chain of fortunate coincidences which in their entirety form a miracle, but a miracle hidden within daily life.
This past week I heard of a similar type of miracle, one which seems to be merely a coincidence. It has to do with the missing Malaysian flight 370, which at the time of writing is still missing.
At present, international aviation experts are still puzzling over the mysterious disappearance of an aircraft, with no sign as to its fate. Most assume the worst, that the flight simply blew apart at high altitude, but some hope that the plane was diverted with transponders disabled, with any number of suggestions as to the end game. We can only pray that for once the conspiracy theorists will be right, and the passengers will be found alive and well and reunited with their loved ones.
As with almost every tragedy, there are always some points of light, individual anecdotes, of those who were spared or saved. Allow me to share one of those with you:
In Israel there is a travel agent, one of many who happen to be Shabbat-observant Jews. His one business stipulation is that he does not book tickets which are for travel on Shabbat (for his Jewish clients of course). He received an email from a client, Andy, to make bookings from Sydney to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and from Vietnam to Melbourne.
The agent made all the booking except the Kuala-Beijing flight (MH370) as it was a Shabbat flight. He suggested that Andy either choose a flight leaving after Shabbat, or if he really wanted the Shabbat flight, he could purchase that leg of the trip himself. Andy agreed to purchase the ticket himself, but then had a change of heart.
Here is his email:
I reconsidered, you are right I should be more observant, I’ll manage without that day in Kuala. Any recommendations for a good Friday night dinner in Beijing?
Flight MH370 went missing on Saturday morning with no trace of its whereabouts. After Shabbat the agent opened his email to find this message from Andy:
I cannot stop thinking about this. This is a true miracle for the books. You are a true life-saver…
I cannot think anymore! We’ll talk later this week. Don’t know how to thank you enough.
Now please change my return. I am not stepping on a Malaysia flight in my life.
The reply he got from the agent was short:
Not I am the life saver. G-d and Shabbat were your life savers!
Of course, this single story does not allay our fears of potential tragedy for the other passengers, but taken on its own is a wonderful Shabbat miracle. Our Sages tell us that more than the Jews kept Shabbat, Shabbat kept the Jews.
Like the story of Purim, this is also a miracle clothed in coincidence, as is so much in our daily lives. As Purim approaches maybe it is time to focus a little on those daily miracles that we simply take for granted because they happen every day, or because they seem like so many coincidences. The Baal Shem Tov used to say that nothing in life is coincidence; everything is run by Divine Providence. Everything that we see, everything we encounter, should have some message for us about our service of G-d in this world.
Let’s try to see the hand of G-d which lies behind everything, just like the Purim story, and let us pray that the passengers of flight MH370 are found alive and well. Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach.
Rabbi Zalman Lent
Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of Chabad of Ireland.
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