Ve-Nahafokh Hu – Topsy-Turvy

One of the themes of the festival of Purim is the idea of a complete change in a situation. This resource discusses the difficulties we sometimes face in controlling changes in our lives and considers how we can cope with such changes despite the difficulties.

Resource Ages: 12-14


Haman plans to kill Mordechai but ends up by becoming his servant

Achashverosh reads in the royal chronicles about how Mordechai saved his life and realizes that Mordechai’s help has never been acknowledged. Just at this moment the senior minister Haman comes to the palace to tell the king about his plan to kill his sworn enemy Mordechai. Achashverosh does not know about this, of course, and this is the moment when the status of Haman and Mordechai are suddenly inverted:

Haman entered, and the king asked him, “What should be done for a man whom the king desires to honor?” Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king desire to honor more than me?” 

So Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king desires to honor, let royal garb which the king has worn be brought, and a horse on which the king has ridden and on whose head a royal diadem has been set; and let the attire and the horse be put in the charge of one of the king’s noble courtiers. And let the man whom the king desires to honor be attired and paraded on the horse through the city square, while they proclaim before him: This is what is done for the man whom the king desires to honor!” 

“Quick, then!” said the king to Haman. “Get the garb and the horse, as you have said, and do this to Mordecai the Jew, who sits in the king’s gate. Omit nothing of all you have proposed.”

(Book of Esther, Chapter 6, verses 6-10)

וַיָּבוֹא הָמָן. וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ: מַה לַעֲשׂוֹת בָּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ?

וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן בְּלִבּוֹ: לְמִי יַחְפֹּץ הַמֶּלֶךְ לַעֲשׂוֹת יְקָר יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנִּי?

וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ: אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ, יָבִיאוּ לְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת אֲשֶׁר לָבַשׁ בּוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ וְסוּס אֲשֶׁר רָכַב עָלָיו הַמֶּלֶךְ וַאֲשֶׁר נִתַּן כֶּתֶר מַלְכוּת בְּרֹאשׁוֹ; וְנָתוֹן הַלְּבוּשׁ וְהַסּוּס עַל יַד אִישׁ מִשָּׂרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ הַפַּרְתְּמִים וְהִלְבִּישׁוּ אֶת הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ וְהִרְכִּיבֻהוּ עַל הַסּוּס בִּרְחוֹב הָעִיר וְקָרְאוּ לְפָנָיו: כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ.

וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְהָמָן: מַהֵר, קַח אֶת הַלְּבוּשׁ וְאֶת הַסּוּס כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ וַעֲשֵׂה־כֵן לְמָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי הַיּוֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ. אַל תַּפֵּל דָּבָר מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ!

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Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • What can we learn from different generations?
  • How do Jewish texts help me grapple with questions of life, the universe and everything?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • What can we learn from the way things are turned on their head in the Book of Esther about our own control over our lives?
  • How can we cope with uncertainty?
  • How can we balance the desire to control and take responsibility for what happens in our lives with our limited ability to determine our fate and existence?

Background for Teacher

One of the main themes of the festival of Purim is expressed in the Hebrew phrase ve-nahafokh hu, which means “and it was inverted” – the situation was turned on its head and everything went topsy-turvy. This idea is reflected in the plot of...

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One of the main themes of the festival of Purim is expressed in the Hebrew phrase ve-nahafokh hu, which means “and it was inverted” – the situation was turned on its head and everything went topsy-turvy. This idea is reflected in the plot of the Book of Esther as well as in the holiday customs, such as dressing in costumes. The Book of Esther includes many 180-degree twists in the plot. For example:

  • Haman and Mordechai switch places. At the beginning of the story, Haman is a senior minister who has been placed in a high position by the king. Everyone bows down to him. But he ends up losing this status and is eventually hung on the tree on which he hoped to hang Mordechai. At the beginning of the story Mordechai sits by the palace gates, but later he is given Haman’s home and is appointed to a senior position in the court. The inversion of status reaches its height when Haman leads the horse that carries Mordechai – an honor Haman thought he was about to enjoy himself.
  • The Jewish people faces annihilation but instead confronts and defeats its enemies.
  • Esther and Mordechai have non-Jewish names, and Esther hides her Jewish identity when she comes to the palace. But eventually their identity is revealed and forms the focus of their actions. 
  • Esther came to the palace because she had no other choice, led by Mordechai and others and terrified to take the initiative. But now she works proactively to remove the mortal threat to her people.
  • At first Haman describes the Jewish people as “scattered and dispersed among the nations.” But the plot in the Book of Esther unites the Jews as they fight for their survival, and this unity is also reflected in the connection to the tradition and customs of the holiday that was establishesd.

The theme of reality turned on its head in the Book of Esther includes many changes, sometimes dramatic and sudden. In some ways, any individual may experience such changes at any time. This is certainly true now, in the early 21st century, when we are all facing rapid changes in technology, politics, thought, and the environment. We can learn from the Book of Esther about the importance of preparing for changes and different situations in our lives from a broad perspective – just as the full impact twists and turns in the Book of Esther only become apparent when we look at the whole story.

For more information about the Book of Esther, see the resource Megillat Esther: Story of the Holiday.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
  • Before studying the resource, it is worth refreshing the students’ memory about the story of the Book of Esther.
  • Ask the students to think about some change they experienced that influenced their lives. It could be a change in the family, such as the arrival of a new sibling or moving to a new home, or a technological change that was recently invented or which they only began to use recently, or a more general change, such as the Coronavirus pandemic. Invite the students to document the change on a sheet divided into two sides. On one side, they should document themselves as they were before the change, using words or emojis or drawings to reflect how they were. On the other side they should use the same tools to describe the impact the change had on their lives.
    Encourage the students not to write on their sheet exactly what the change was. After they write them, divide the students into pairs. Each student has to guess what change their partner is referring to from the clues provided.
  • If the students have already studied the Book of Esther, begin the session by pointing out that the plot includes many twists and turns. Some of these are presented overly in the text, while others are just hinted at. What such changes can they think of (events, character traits, status, moods, objective reality…)?

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. Some of the twists in the Book of Esther relate to changes of status – from low status to high, or vice versa (such as Mordechai and Haman, or the change in the status of the Jewish people in general). Do you think this is realistic, or do you think that in the real world someone who is born to a particular status will usually stay with that status for life? Explain your answer and give examples from history or from your own surroundings.
  2. Haman cast lots (threw dice) to determine when the Jews were to be killed. He relied on random chance to set a date that would influence many people’s lives. Do you feel that important things that happen to you in life happen by chance or purposefully? Do you feel that we have control over our lives? Explain.
  3. What can the Purim story tell us about our ability to control and take responsibility for our own lives even in situations where our fate seems to be sealed? What character in the story particularly embodies this idea, and in what way?
  4. How can upheavals and changes influence our sense of control over our lives? What is it about changes or upheavals that can provoke fear? What other feelings to you think they can inspire? Can change also spark positive feelings? Explain your answer.
  5. Even when we are facing a change in our lives that has a positive impact for us, it still isn’t always easy to cope with the change – and all the more so when we experience the change as negative. How do you think we can cope with change and upheaval in our lives? Think about something that helped you when you were facing a change or upheaval in your life.
  6. Exceptional events in people’s lives may lead them to change their opinions or worldviews. What do you think about these kind of changes – do you respect them or dismiss them? Why do you think people sometimes find it hard to accept it when other people undergo sudden changes?
  7. If the characters in the Book of Esther were aware of the whole picture, and not only their own story, do you think that would help them cope with the events they experience personally? Think of an example from your own life when you could have coped better with a difficult event or change if you had known the full picture. Are there instances when a broad perspective might actually make it harder to cope? Explain your answer.
  • Ask the students to prepare cards representing the twists and turns experienced by the characters in the Book of Esther (two cards for each change – before and after(. They can represent the changes by using drawings, typography, subtitles, colors, etc. Alternatively, they can use pictures of famous people or cartoon characters, memes, etc. to represent the change. The students can fix their cards to a stick or to two sides of a Purim rattle. As they turn the stick the picture will change.
    Invite the students to hold a dialogue between the characters in small groups. Each time you clap your hands, or say “change!”, the students turn their cards and the play dialogue changes accordingly. The character can talk about the experiences change has brought, tell the Purim story from their own perspective or discuss any other issue in their role before or after the change. Another possibility is to prepare a sheet featuring “before and after” images of the characters, in the style of advertisements for cosmetics or hair styles.
  • Ask the students to write a letter to one of the characters in the Book of Esther before they experience the upheaval that is coming. The students can suggest ways the characters can act or how to cope with their feelings based on their (the students’) knowledge of the impending change. You could also invite the students to write a letter to their past self, before some change happened in their own life. What would they like to say to their old self? What suggestions or information would they give them? What could they say to their old self that would help them cope with the change?
  • Discuss the theme of upheaval in greater depth by studying the resources about the Megillah Story  and Characters in the Megillah.
  • Watch the film V’nahafoch Hu – New York Boys Choir (you could start after the teacher’s introduction). What examples of turning things on their head appear in the film? What actions can you do to help someone who is experiencing an upheaval?
    In the film, the upheavals are external. How can we change our fate without waiting for someone else to help us?
  • Present some inspiring examples of people who made changes in their lives. For example:
    – J.K. Rowling was an unemployed single mother before she wrote the Harry Potter series and became one of the richest and most successful women in the world. (For details – see her life story).
    – “Grandma Moses” began painting professionally at the age of 78 after joint pain left her unable to continue embroidering. She became a well-known artist and won prizes and admiration. (See the Wikipedia entry).