The story of Purim, as told in both the Book of
Esther and Tractate Megillah of the Talmud, contains tales of palace intrigue,
a beauty contest, examples of loyalty and heroism, reminders of the importance
of both minor characters and historical archives, and dramatic reversals of
This last aspect, represented in the text by the Hebrew root
(heh, feh, khaf), to change, adds a magical quality to the story. A time
of grief and mourning, we are told, was
(nehepakh), magically transformed, into one of festive joy. Furthermore,
instead of Haman's forces having the upper hand,
(nahfokh hu), the opposite happened.
The Talmud tells us that the Persian King Ahashverosh was like another
modern-day Persian Gulf leader capricious, a
(hafakhpakh), a person who changes his mind and a leader who changes
his policies on a whim.
Today, many Western leaders are hoping for a
(hafikha), a coup d'état, in troublesome Iraq. There are also
some who would not be satisfied with anything less than a complete
(mah'pekha), revolution. Still others are willing
(lahafokh olamot), to move heaven and earth, to find a peaceful solution
to the problems of the Middle East.
Speaking of magic, there is something akin to magic
in what is popularly called (if anything in grammar may be deemed popular) the
(vav ha- hipukh), the "conversive vav." This is a letter that
turns the past into the future and the future into the past. For example, when
the Torah wishes to say "Moses spoke," it takes the future form, e.g.,
(yiddaber moshe), "Moses shall speak," adds the
(vav ha-hipukh), and "Presto Changeo!" we have
(va-yiddaber moshe), "Moses spoke."
Another prophet who spoke, but perhaps too soon, was Jonah, who walked into
the sinful city of Nineveh and proclaimed, using another meaning of our root,
"In forty days, Nineveh
(neh'pakhet), shall be utterly destroyed." That is not exactly what
happened. Au contraire, or, as they say in Hebrew,
(le-hefekh), the inhabitants of Nineveh repented and the city was spared.
Another linguistic phenomenon represented by our root is the elegantly named
(davar ve-hippukho), inelegantly translated as "the thing and its
opposite." One of the most striking examples of this curiosity is the Hebrew
(hekdesh), which means, depending on the circumstances, both a holy and
an unholy place.
In modern Israel during Purim, you might want to unwind from a topsy-turvy day
of blessing Haman and cursing Mordecai. Walk into your local cafe and ask for
hafukh). As if by magic, it turns a cup of espresso into the best-tasting
cafe latte you've ever had.