The mystery of Charvonah
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Monday 11th March 2019

An idea for Purim, by Rabbi Dr Moshe Freedman

After reading the Megillah on Purim, we sing a song called ‘Shoshanat Yaakov’ meaning, ‘The Lily of Jacob’ which describes how God brings the ultimate salvation to the Jewish people, before blessing our heroes Mordechai and Esther and cursing the villains Haman and Zeresh (see Green Siddur, page 740). But the song ends by mentioning someone called Charvonah who was one of Achashverosh’s servants, whom we should ‘remember for good.’ The Talmud Yerushalmi (Megillah 3:74) explicitly states that Charvonah should be included in the list of characters we should mention on Purim. But who is Charvonah and why is he so important? Why should such a minor character be included alongside Mordechai and Esther, and Haman and Zeresh?

Charvonah is first mentioned as one of Achashverosh’s servants who went to fetch Vashti to appear in front of the king (Esther 1:10). His second mention is after Esther has revealed Haman as the man plotting to kill her and her people. Charvonah mentions to Achashverosh that Haman also built gallows on which to hang Mordechai, who had previously been honoured for saving the king’s life (ibid. 7:9). This was enough to push the king over the tipping point and order’s Haman’s execution on the spot – on the very gallows he had made for Mordechai. This is certainly an important intervention, but there is much more here than meets the eye.

The first spelling of Charvonah is "חַרְבוֹנָא" with an ‘aleph’ at the end, whereas the second time it is spelt "חַרְבוֹנָה" with a ‘hey’. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Esther 1059) relates however, that the second Charvonah was in fact Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) who appeared to Achashverosh in the guise of his trusted servant. Apart from the slightly different spelling, this is hinted to by the fact that the verse states that Charvonah appeared ‘before the king’.

But if it was Eliyahu who mentioned Haman’s gallows to Achashverosh, why do we sing וְגַם חַרְבוֹנָה זָכוּר לַטּוֹב – ‘and Charvonah should be remembered for good’ – it is really Eliyahu who should be remembered for good!

The message of the Megillat Esther is that when we look at the world around us and the events that take place, it can appear to us to be merely a physical world which operates on a basis of cause and effect. God may appear to be completely absent – but only if we have the limited insight and perception of Achashverosh. If we look deeper into the world, we don’t see Charvonah, we see Eliyahu HaNavi – God’s emissary who is there in every generation helping to bring salvation and redemption for all of us at each step of the way. We mention Charvonah and not Eliyahu because the style of the Megillah is to hide God's intervention. It is only when we look at the bigger picture we see it fully.

This echoes what we sing in bentching (Green siddur, page 766) when we say הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִשְׁלַח לָנוּ אֶת אֵלִיָּהוּ הַנָּבִיא זָכוּר לַטּוֹב וִיבַשֶּׂר לָנוּ בְּשׂוֹרוֹת טוֹבוֹת יְשׁוּעוֹת וְנֶחָמוֹת – May the Compassionate One send us Elijah the Prophet – may he be remembered for good – to bring us good tidings of salvation and consolation.

Please God, we should be inspired this Purim to learn to see beyond the physicality of the world, and merit to see Eliyhau HaNavi bringing good tidings of salvation and consolation for all of us, our families and the whole of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Dr Moshe Freedman is the Rabbi of New West End Synagogue