Purim: Brit Shalom: Don’t Sleep
The 10th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Pinchas of Voldova, author of Bris Shalom (1663). As Rabbi Akiva was once sitting and expounding, his disciples became drowsy. In order to rouse them, he said: How did Esther merit to reign over 127 provinces? Because, thus said God: “Let Esther, the descendent of Sarah, who lived a hundred and 27 years, come and reign over 127 provinces.”
R. Zera was asked by his disciples: In virtue of what have you reached such a good old age? He replied: Never in my life have I been harsh with my household, nor have I stepped in front of one greater than myself, nor have I meditated on the Torah in filthy alleys, nor have I gone four cubits without Torah and tefillin, nor have I slept in the beth ha-midrash, either a long or a short sleep, nor have I rejoiced in the downfall of my fellow, nor have I called my fellow by his nickname, (or, as some report, ‘family nickname’). (Megillah 28a)
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Michael:4 Michael, your nation has committed sin. Michael answered: Lord of the Universe! Let the good ones among them be considered sufficient!
He replied: I shall burn both them and the good ones among them!
Immediately then: And he spoke unto the man clothed in linen, and said: “Go in between the wheelwork, even under the cherub, and fill both thy hands with coals of fire from between the cherubim, and dash them against the city. And he went in my sight.”
Thereupon: And the cherub stretched forth his hand between the cherubim unto the fire that was between the cherubim, and took thereof and put it into the hands of him that was clothed in linen, who took it and went out.
R. Hana b. Bizna said in the name of R. Simeon the Pious: Were it not for the fact that the coals of the hand of the cherub became cold [in the process of coming] into the hands of Gabriel, there would not have been left over from the ‘enemies of Israel’8 one to remain or one to escape, for it is written: “And behold the man clothed in linen, who had the inkhorn on his side, reported, saying: ‘I have done
according to all that Thou hast commanded me’.”
R. Johanan said: In that hour Gabriel was led out behind the curtain and received forty fiery strokes, he being told: If you had not executed the command at all, well, you simply would not have executed it. But since you did execute it, why did you not do as you were commanded?
Furthermore: Don’t you know that:‘One brings no report about mischief’?
Thereupon Dubiel, the guardian angel of the Persians, was brought in and placed in his stead, and he officiated for twenty-one days. This is what is written: “But the prince of
the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days; but lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I was left over there beside the kings of Persia.16 Twenty-one provinces and the port of Mashmahig were given to him.
Thereupon he said: Put down for me Israel for the polltax! They did so. Put down the Sages for the poll-tax! They did so.
When they were about to sign, Gabriel came forth from behind the curtain and said: It is vain for you that ye rise early, and sit up late, you that eat the bread of toil; so He giveth unto His beloved in sleep.
(What does ‘So He giveth unto His beloved in sleep’ signify?
R. Isaac said: This refers to the wives of the scholars who deny themselves sleep in this world, and acquire the world to come).
No attention was paid to him.
He said before Him: Lord of the Universe, if all the wise men of other nations were in one scale of the balance, and Daniel, the man of pleasant parts, in the other, would he not be found to outweigh them all? —
The Holy One, blessed be He, said: Who is it that pleads the merit of my children?
They replied: Lord of the Universe, it is Gabriel. He said: Let him come in, as it is written: ‘And I am come [in] because of thy words’. Having commanded that they bring him in, they brought him in.
He noticed that Dubiel held the document in his hand, and he wanted to take it from him, but the former swallowed it.
Some say: [The document] was written out, but not signed. Others say: It was also signed, but as he swallowed it, the signature was blotted out. Hence there are some people in the kingdom of Persia who are obliged to pay poll-tax, while others are free from it. And when I go forth, lo, the prince of Greece shall come. He cried and cried and none minded him. (Yoma 77a)
We also know that the Purim miracle began when Achashveirosh could not sleep.
Rabbi Akiva was reminding his students of the importance of not sleeping, the specific merit of women such as Sarah and Esther, and of Daniel, in order to merit redemption.