By Rabbi Sanford Dresin (CH COL USA Ret.)
This time of year causes me to reflect on a Purim I spent in Vietnam over 40 years ago. In addition to serving as an Assistant Corps Chaplain, I also served as the region’s Jewish Chaplain. My area of operation extended from Saigon in the south to the Central Highlands in the north. To reach my soldiers in distant locations I would commute by helicopter. For Purim 1970, I had arranged for a helicopter to transport me to five locations where I planned to read the Megillah.
At daybreak on Purim day, we took off from a helicopter pad near where I lived. We were able to fly to four locations where I read the Megillah for appreciative Jewish troops. En route to the fourth location, the sun began setting and the pilot felt it was too dangerous to continue on to the next location. I was upset, knowing how disappointed the last group would be. Since it had been a long and trying day, I was very tired, and upon returning to my base, slept late the following morning.
When I awoke, I heard what sounded like a very loud crash, and I jumped up to investigate. What had happened was that my helicopter, taking off on another mission, had just crashed. It was soon determined that the crash was the result of a mechanical problem due to metal fatigue. Had the metal fatigue instead occurred the day before, while this helicopter was hundreds of feet in the air, it would have been fatal for everyone on board.
Back to Purim: The defeat of Haman and his genocidal plot to murder all the Jewish people was foiled by a not-so-apparent nor hidden miracle. The events that led to Haman’s downfall could be viewed as a series of mere coincidences. However, our ancestors living at that time had the spiritual sensitivity to recognize that the events and encounters found in the Megillah were a matter of Hashgacha Pratis, Divine intervention. It was this Vietnam experience that made Hashgacha Pratis personal for me. It is written that when Mashiach arrives, all of our Jewish Holidays would cease with the exception of Purim. For it was on Purim, in the absence of any glaring miracles, that our people recognized the role of the Almighty in affairs of the world as well as in their own lives each and every day.
Originally published in the Purim 5782 Jewish-American Warrior.