Purim is an oddity in the Jewish calendar, albeit a very fun one. It has been confused with both Halloween and an NFL football game owing to the costumes that are worn and the noisemakers that are set off every time the “wrong team” is mentioned during the reading of the Book of Esther.
The Book of Esther is read TWICE in the synagogue on Purim.
Many readers may not be aware of this lesser-known fact: there are sections of the Bible where God is simply nowhere to be found. He is Invisible. Silent. Out of sight. This is certainly true regarding the Book of Esther. Nowhere in the entire Book of Esther is God’s name mentioned. Not even once.
In fact, to be frank, the Book of Esther actually reads like a Shakespeare play. The story opens with a royal feast thrown by the king of the Persian Empire, to which the entire city is invited. We then proceed to the wife who disobeys her husband (you know what happened to her!), the search for a new wife (that’s Esther), the villain who wants to kill the Jews (that’s Haman), and the hero who saves the day (that’s Mordechai…with Esther’s help!). Indeed, that seems to be the theme of every Jewish holiday: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”
BUT WHERE IS GOD?
Purim preparations this week in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market. (Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
Perhaps the answer can be found in the name of Queen Esther herself. The name “Esther” actually means “hidden” in Hebrew. In fact, perhaps the Book of Esther and the Purim story were alluded to in the Torah when God said that “[one day] I will surely hide my face (“hastir astir”) from you!” (Deuteronomy 31:18). Notice how the word hastir resembles and sounds like the name Esther. The similarity is even more apparent in the original Hebrew.
God is there, of course, but he’s simply hidden. There is an entire string of miracles and events throughout the Book of Esther that appear to be coincidental. Take, for example, how Queen Vashti “coincidentally” happens to refuse to appear at the royal feast; how the King “coincidentally” decides to kill her and find a new wife; how Mordechai “coincidentally” happens to be in the right place at the right time, allowing Esther to get an interview for the job; how the King “coincidentally” walks in as Haman appears to be making sexual advances towards Esther, and so on.
WAS PURIM THE ONLY COINCIDENCE?
By the way, didn’t the establishment of the State of Israel also appear to be a coincidence? What about the Six Day War? What about the thousands of rockets from Gaza that have caused only minimal damage and injury? And more recently, what about last week’s daring and dramatic raid on the Iranian ship carrying long-range missiles intended for Gaza? Were those coincidence too?
An Israeli worker carries a figure depicting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as part of the preparations for the Purim parade in Holon.The holiday celebrates the saving of the Jewish People in ancient Persia–now Iran. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Of course not! There are NO coincidences in life. God is everywhere and at all times. That is the message of Purim and that is the message of the Book of Esther. Sometimes God is revealed – indeed, very revealed – as He was at the time of the Exodus, when plague after plague was unleashed, and later, when the sea split. There is also, of course, the Revelation at Mount Sinai, when God gave the Torah to the Jewish people. Yes, sometimes God is revealed, but sometimes – actually, most times – He is hidden.
Our job is to ensure that we do not lose focus. Whether it is a super-duper drama or something as simple as the breath you just took, remember: God is there. He’s just hidden.
Author: Rabbi Ari Enkin,
Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
Date: Mar. 11, 2014