A Water from the Well blog post,
Written by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
February 1, 2021
This month, we will celebrate the holiday of Purim at which time we read the Megillah of Esther. Connecting with the child in us all, we celebrate this redemption story with costumes, groggers and levity. It is a time of joy when most of the long winter is behind us and springtime beckons. Passover, our great redemption story, is only one month away and it is as if the seeds of salvation begin to stir at Purim.
One of the unique themes of Purim is the hidden aspect of God. Throughout the entire Megillah there is not one mention of God, whereas on Passover, God is the major protagonist in our story of liberation from Egypt.
In our Purim story, Esther, whose name in Hebrew means “hidden,” conceals her true identity from King Ahachashveros until just the moment when revealing it will bring salvation to her people. It is through her hiding and then revealing that redemption becomes possible.
Chazal—a Hebrew acronym that refers to our rabbinic sages—teach that the great mystery that lies hidden in this story is the way in which Divine providence seems to unfold, reversing the destiny of the characters. Those destined for destruction are saved and elevated, while those intent on destroying are themselves taken down.
This theme of reversals, of redemption emerging from catastrophe, is alluded to in the Talmud (Megillah 13b). It is taught that when Haman cast lots to determine the time for the massacre of the Jews, he rejoiced when it fell in the month of Adar because that is the month when Moses died. Moses’ yahrzeit is the 7th of Adar. What Haman did not know, is that this is also the date of Moses’ birth. Thus, Adar simultaneously marks the birth of redemption.
The lessons of Purim reveal that things are not necessarily as they appear. Truth can be obscured, especially when a king is derelict. But when truth is revealed, justice can be restored.
Pachad Yitzchak (a Hasidic sage) relates a beautiful teaching in which he explains how the holidays of Purim and Passover are connected. In the Passover story, God’s presence is explicit, while in the Purim story, God’s presence is not mentioned. These stories present us with two ways of recognizing and connecting with God.
The sage gives this example: When one is searching for a friend in the darkness, the use of a candle will illuminate the friend’s presence. This resembles the Passover story when God’s presence is obvious, and no personal work is necessary to see and to connect. The Purim story however, expresses a time of darkness in which external light is not available. This demands that we acquire new sensibilities. One can, for instance, listen for the friend’s voice in the darkness or develop the sensitivity to sense their presence.
Pachad Yitzchak states that the light of the redemption of Purim depends on us learning to recognize light in the darkness. Modern Bible scholar Aviva Zornberg explains that it is up to us to develop new sensibilities and to become sensitive to the sounds of God in our lives and in our texts. Purim teaches us that it is possible to evolve spiritually, to sense God’s presence when the light is obscured, and to partner with God in the process of an unfolding redemption.
Ken yehi ratzon- may it be so!