A student of mine, Jennifer, approached me after a class that I delivered on the topic of humility. She relayed the following personal story: After working at her job for several years, a more senior position opened up. She was excited at the prospect of a new role, as she felt fully qualified for this opportunity. Before Jennifer had a chance to apply or interview for the position, a younger woman, with much less experience, was hired for the job. Jennifer was suddenly taking orders from this “whippersnapper.” Deep down, she knew that she should not be jealous or angry, but every time she looked at the “newbie’s” office from the seat in her own cubicle, she seethed inside. Frequently, she caught mistakes that her new boss made, but was forced to cover up for her. These occurrences only reaffirmed Jennifer’s feelings: She should be the boss. Jennifer summed up her story saying, “It just feels so backwards.”
One of my favorite themes of the holiday of Purim is Venahafoch hu. The first verse in Chapter 9 of Megillat Esther states, “On the very day that the enemies of the Jews expected to gain the upper hand over them, it was turned about;” the Jews gained the upper hand over their adversaries. The Jewish people were sentenced to be destroyed, but the opposite took place – they were saved. Mordechai, a righteous Jew, was slated to be hung, and instead Haman, the wicked mastermind behind this evil plot, was hung.
Venahafoch hu carries a powerful message about potential; namely, that anything is possible. Where we stand in the future could be wildly different than where we stand today. The underdog can become the champion.
On a personal level, challenges that seem dire can change in an instant for the positive. This represents hope and the chance to believe that something we never thought possible is truly attainable. Those who are seemingly all-powerful, oppressing others from the highest heights, can fall. And on the flip side, someone of the lowest possible status has the potential to ascend to great heights and success.
This concept of Venahafoch hu represents Hashem’s control over the world. Recognizing this helps foster a true sense of humility. If we internalize this message, we will come to realize that we do not have to publicly claim our greatness; we can allow those below us to excel.
One day, my son and I walked outside, ready to play on a swing attached to a tree in our front yard. A complete stranger was pushing their child on our swing! It seemed that they were not quite done using the swing, and that they did not intend to leave any time soon.
To avoid conflict, I quickly declared, “Nahafoch hu!”
“Huh?” my son asked me, somewhat confused.
“Let’s take a walk.” I said, “I want to tell you a story…”
A friend of the family on the East Coast recently built a pool in their backyard. The family felt so blessed to have this ability that they committed to an “open door policy.” During the hours from 10 am to 4 pm, anyone who wanted to take a dunk in the pool was more than welcome to. One summer evening after 4 pm, the owner of the house wanted to get in some laps before dinner. He made his way to his very own backyard. To his surprise, he found a man swimming in his pool. Note that this was a complete stranger in his pool. To the owner’s shock, the stranger exclaimed with apparent annoyance, “Excuse me, the owner of this house told me explicitly that I have permission to use this pool without anyone else. Please leave so I can enjoy my pool time.
I turned to my son and asked him, “What would you do in a situation like this?”
“I would tell him it’s my pool, now you get out!”
“Yes, honey, that’s what a lot of people would say, and what many more would be thinking.”
I proceeded to tell him what actually took place. “‘If you are sure the owner told you that,’ my friend said to the stranger, ‘then it’s all yours.’ He then proceeded to calmly walk away without mentioning that he himself was the owner.”
This man’s response shows that he internalized the lesson of Purim, the lesson of Nahafoch hu. At its core, Nahafoch hu is teaching us the lesson of modesty and humility. Micha 6:8 says “Walk humbly with Hashem.” When Hashem created the world, He contracted Himself in order to make space for mankind. Being humble is about constricting ourselves, making ourselves small to allow for more space for others. In reality, the rightful owner of the pool had the authority to ask the intruder to leave. Alternatively, he could have let him know that he himself was the owner and never gave anyone such permission. But he chose to be humble. He allowed this person to maintain his dignity and feel ownership and pride, even though he was completely out of line.
Hashem acts this way with us all the time. He modestly gives to us in a hidden manner behind the mask of nature, while we selfishly take, constantly demanding more of Him. He could tell us like it is; yet He continues to give, even if we do not deserve His blessings. It is His desire for us to act in kind to others as He acts with us.
I saw the wheels in my son’s head turning. “Look, YOU just did Nahafoch hu. This swing is rightfully yours, and we have every right to ask this boy to leave. But we now have the chance to be like that tzaddik, and to be like Hashem!” My son loved feeling like he too could internalize the lesson of Nahafoch hu and achieve greatness. That day, he chose to play on his scooter instead.
Today, Jews of every age, young and old, celebrate Purim through this concept of Nahafoch hu. We get dressed up in fun costumes. We deliver gift baskets of food to friends. Additionally, we give charity to the poor before they even have the chance to stretch out their hand to ask us. This Purim, may we all reach personal heights and learn the lesson of Nahafoch hu, and may Hashem continue to apply this bounty toward us and turn about everything in our lives for the best!