Something unexpected happened at the execution of Julius Streicher, one of the high-ranking Nazis sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trials. Moments before Streicher was hanged in the early hours of October 16th 1946, Newsweek reported: “He stared at the witnesses facing the gallows and shouted ‘Purimfest, 1946."
What did Streicher mean by this? Why would a condemned Nazi mention Purim in his last words? Streicher was obviously familiar with Megillat Esther, which tells of the attempted genocide Haman planned, and how, when his plans were thwarted and they were defeated, Haman and his ten sons were hanged. Streicher was acutely aware of the irony of history – that he was one of ten Nazis hanged after being sentenced at the Nuremberg Trials. (In fact, eleven had been sentenced to death but Goering committed suicide before his sentence was carried out.) And so in the end ten were hanged, just like Haman’s ten sons in the Book of Esther. Amazingly, Streicher saw the historic link between the Nazi genocide and the attempted genocide of Haman, who, like the Nazis, also intended to wipe out every Jew – man, woman and child.
But there is an even deeper irony, which Streicher was certainly not aware of. Megillat Esther lists the names of Haman’s ten sons and according to the Halachah, three of the letters in these names are written in smaller font than the rest of the text – a tav, a shin and a zayin – and one letter is written in larger font – a vav. What do these unusually sized letters signify?
For generations different explanations have been offered. In the 20th century, however, another amazing meaning was discovered. The large vav is numerically 6, corresponding to the sixth millennium; the small tav, shin and zayin are numerically 707; together, these numbers refers to the 707th year of the sixth millennium – in other words, the Jewish year 5707, which corresponds to 1946, the year in which these ten high-ranking Nazis were hanged. Thus, the unusually sized letters – vav, tav, shin and zayin – found in the names of Haman’s ten sons allude to the year of the execution of these ten Nazi war criminals. What is further fascinating is that they were sentenced on the 1st of October, in the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur of 1946, and hanged on the 16th of October, which that year came out on Hoshana Rabbah, which, according to the Zohar, is the day that judgment of the world is finalized.
Since the Torah is G-d’s wisdom for all times, there are often things which cannot be properly understood until generations later. The differences in the font size of the letters in the list of Haman’s ten sons was not completely understood in previous generations. There were other explanations for it, but only in October 1946 did the full meaning of it become clear as ten Nazis were hanged in the Jewish year 5707, tav shin zayin.
What does all this mean? The answer comes from one of the great heroines of Jewish history, Queen Esther. At risk to her life, with bravery, conviction and loyalty, she intervened to save her people. Through her bold and dramatic life, Queen Esther showed us that G-d’s presence permeates our history. She understood that her fate and destiny – and that of her people – were in G-d’s hands. Esther taught us that sometimes G-d interacts with the world through open miracles as we experienced with the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea during the Exodus from Egypt. But mostly He does so in a hidden way, as happened during the time of Purim, when the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people was just as great as the open miracles and yet occurred in a way that was hidden from view and seemingly “natural.” The Gemara (Chulin 139b) says that the name “Esther” comes from the Hebrew root “to hide” and refers to the verse where G-d says, “on that day I will hide My face from you” (Devarim 31:18). As we know, in the entire Book of Esther, G-d’s name is not mentioned once; yet His presence is everywhere. Through our celebrations on Purim, we attribute all of the miracles of that time to G-d’s direct intervention in history, albeit hidden behind the machinations of politics and world affairs.
Queen Esther’s message is that we must not relate to these events in natural terms alone; we need to see G-d’s presence in everything, even though He is hidden. Esther’s message applies to us as individuals in our day-to-day lives, where, as Judaism teaches, G-d is involved and interested in every aspect of life; and it also applies to Jewish destiny and history at large, which powerfully demonstrate G-d’s involvement in the affairs of people and the direction of civilizations. The supernatural miracles of the establishment of the State of Israel and the rebirth of Torah learning throughout the world following the devastation of the Holocaust are but two examples of many which show G-d’s power and presence in everything.
And even in our current dangers, we can feel G-d’s presence and involvement. Julius Streicher, as he was being executed, saw with clarity the connection between the Nazi genocide and the attempted genocide planned by Haman. And now the very country in which Haman lived and in which the events of the Book of Esther took place – Persia – is the very same country that today is called Iran, where the new Hamans, the new Nazis, are proclaiming their intentions of genocide against the Jewish people. This ironic twist of history is so eerie and uncanny that it clearly shows us G-d’s presence in these events which affect the Jewish people and the world at large.
Our response to this latest declaration of intent to commit genocide coming from modern-day Persia, must be in the spirit of our great leader and prophetess, Queen Esther. Let us follow her example. Esther pursued not only a practical plan of action that was well executed politically and strategically, but she also pursued a spiritual plan instructing Mordechai to gather the people to repent, pray and fast. She understood and felt G-d’s presence in all of the events, and so too should we.
At this time of grave danger, we must follow Esther’s example: prepare practically and strategically, but also spiritually – in the form of prayer and repentance as we heed G-d’s call to return to Him. May G-d once again bless His people with redemption and liberation so that we may give thanks to Him as we says in our Purim prayers, “for the miracles, the redemption, the mighty deeds and the victories in battle which You performed for our ancestors in those days and in this time.”