Why Purim is So Important
As much as I don’t like to mix religion and politics, I couldn’t help it one night as I found myself comparing the outcome of the primaries to the Jewish holidays. As the TV channels were reporting the outcome of the voting, they created two categories for the results: One was dedicated to the first three candidates and the other for all the rest. If the Jewish people would be asked to vote for the holidays they observed we will get in the first category Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Passover (in no particular order), while all the others in the second category struggle for some attention and do not often get it.
One of these festivals is Purim. It should have been the most popular Jewish holiday, at least for young people, as is the case in Israel. But if you try to follow the tradition here, you soon realize that while dressing up is fun, when you are the only one who does it – let’s be honest, it’s just weird. But when we look deeper into the meaning of Purim we learn that it is much more than a poor consolation prize for Jewish kids who don’t celebrate Halloween.
In his Laws of Purim, Maimonides teaches:
In the Messianic era, all of the biblical books of the Prophets and Writings will be nullified, with the exception of the Book of Esther. It will continue to exist, as will the Torah and the Oral Law, which will never be nullified (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah, 2:18).
It is an extraordinary idea that the only book besides the five books of Torah that will be part of the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, is the book we read on Purim: The Book of Esther. It’s even harder to comprehend this book’s importance when we realize that not even once does God’s name appear in it, and none of the main characters are religious leaders, prophets or people with exceptional virtues. The story that is told in completely human terms, focuses on an assimilated Jewish community with no divine manifestation or supernatural miracles that determine the outcome of their story.
And this is exactly what makes Purim so important. The story of Purim conveys a powerful theological statement that experiencing God’s miracles does not lie exclusively in the realm of the prophets, priests and supernatural miracles. The Book of Esther portrays a hidden manifestation of God, inspiring us to have faith that God is ever present in the world, even when that doesn’t seem so obvious. For thousands of years, God no longer speaks to us from mountaintops, or through prophets with whom He interacts. The ancient rabbis called this concept hester panim, “the concealed face of God”. God’s presence is hidden from direct human perception. Just like on a cloudy day when we don’t see the sun but know it’s there, the story of Purim teaches us that God is involved, even when we don’t see His direct involvement.
To better understand this point let’s look at our history some 2,000 years after the Purim story. We see the Jewish people surviving centuries of pogroms, mass displacement and the Holocaust. Even after we reclaimed a tiny piece of land and called it home we attracted the fury of hundreds of millions of Muslims and the resentment of so many other countries. And yet, Am Israel Chai, we are alive and thriving.
"The Jews enjoyed light and gladness, happiness and honor" (Esther 8:16). And so may it be for us.
Rabbi Alon Levkovitz