Q. After Alenu in the Siddur there are three verses in small print. Why are they there?
• “Be not afraid of sudden terror or of the destruction of (or by) the wicked when it comes” (Prov. 3:25).
• “Plan a conspiracy and it shall be brought to nought: speak a word and it shall not stand, for God is with us” (Isa. 8:10).
• “Even to old age I am the same; even to grey hairs will I carry you – I have made you and I shall bear you, I will carry you and save you” (Isa. 46:4).
As the service ends and we are about to return to an often unfriendly world, these verses promise that whatever happens God will watch over and support us. Saying these verses was recommended by a book called Zichron Tziyyon, based on a story in the Midrash to M’gillat Esther.
The story is that the instructions for the annihilation of the Jews of Shushan had been signed and sealed and Mordechai must have been feeling very low. He met three boys coming out of school and asked them what verses from the Bible they had learnt that day. The boys answered with the passages I have quoted. This lifted Mordechai’s spirits enormously and assured him that Haman’s decree would not prevail.
According to the Vilna Gaon (in Sefer Kol Eliyahu), the boys, aware of what was happening around them, had looked for verses to prove that Haman would share the fate of his ancestor Amalek. One boy found comfort in the verse, “Be not afraid”; the second applied a verse that taught that conspiracies against God can not prevail; the third proved that even though Haman thought the Jewish God was too old to help His people, His power never wanes.
Another view sees the third verse as speaking of our old age, not God’s. The Divine blessing goes with us throughout our lives. Unlike the ancient Spartans who abandoned their old people on the hilltops and hoped they would die, God never abandons His people even when they are old.