The holiday of Purim celebrates the miraculous deliver- ance of the Jewish people from the threat of annihilation; G‑d saved the Jewish people from the evil plan fomented by Haman and signed by King Achashveirosh, to “annihilate, kill and destroy all the Jews,”1 heaven forbid.

Both Mordechai, the leader of the Jewish people at that time, and his relative Queen Esther, played a central role in nullifying the dastardly decree. The manner in which they did so is most instructive.

At that time, Mordechai was part of Achashveirosh’s royal court, serving as a close advisor to the king.2 Moreover, he had recently saved the king’s life.3 Esther was, of course, Achashveirosh’s wife, a woman the king found “gracious and charming.”4 Given that the two were so well connected, it might seem that the first thing Mordechai and Esther would do to save the Jews would be to use their excellent connections in order to annul Haman’s evil decree.

Yet, as soon as the decree became known, Mordechai “garbed himself in sackcloth and ashes and went out to the midst of the city [of Shushan],”5 calling on all Jews to repent.6 Only after doing so did he instruct Esther to “go to the king, to supplicate him and beseech him regarding her people.”7

Esther conducted herself in a similar fashion. Before seeking an audience with the king, she conveyed the following message to Mordechai:8 “Go and assemble all the Jews... fast on my behalf. Do not eat or drink for three days.” Moreover, she said: “I too... shall fast in like manner.”

Now, Esther desperately needed to be found appealing by the king, especially since her visit would be unauthorized9 and thus fraught with personal danger.10 She had not been called into the king’s presence for thirty days.11

So why did she decide to fast for three days — an act that would cause her to appear much less physically appealing?

The answer is that both Mordechai and Esther realized that the decree regarding the Jews was the result of improper Jewish behavior.12 Since it is abundantly clear that one cannot nullify an end result (the decree) without first nullifying the cause (the erroneous Jewish conduct), their first act was to call Jews to repentance and fasting.

Once the spiritual cause of the decree had been ameliorated through repentance, and because G‑d desires that one act through natural means,13 Esther then went to Achashveirosh in an attempt to abolish the decree.

Because the appeal to Achashveirosh was merely the natural vessel for the true salvation that came from above, it is understandable that Mordechai and Esther were less concerned with physical appearance or diplomatic skills as they were with repentance.

The lesson for us is obvious: There are those who think that during times of distress and misfortune, G‑d forbid, natural means should be the first course of action.

The story of Purim teaches us that natural means are only a second step; the first step must be to strengthen our bond with G‑d by studying His Torah and performing His mitzvos. Then, and only then, should we turn to natural means to extricate ourselves from our difficulties.

When we act in this manner, we can be secure in the knowledge that whatever natural garment we employ will act to convey the supernatural miracle that is ultimately responsible for extracting us from the troubles we may find ourselves in.

For just as this is so regarding Israel as a whole, so too is it in regard to individual Jews: Every Jew must know14 that he is bound up with G‑d, Who totally transcends nature.

It is true that G‑d’s blessings must be clothed in the natural vessel of human action (“G‑d shall bless you in all that you do”). 15 However, after all is said and done, human activity is no more than a garment and vehicle for G‑d’s blessings. The main emphasis must not be on the garment,16 but on stimulating G‑d’s abundant blessings through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VI, pp. 191-193.