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Reflections This Purim

By Rabbi Brad Horwitz
Director, Jewish Engagement & Adult Programs

It’s time for Purim at the J! This year on March 21, the J will celebrate the Purim holiday in many ways. Our Early Childhood students will dress in costume, parade around our buildings and have an all-around great time. Other celebrations will include games, noise making, hamantaschen eating and mask making. In anticipation of Purim, I also ask us to think about an important concept to be learned from the story of Purim itself.

In the text of the Scroll of Esther that is read on Purim, God’s name is not mentioned once. It is the actions of the Jewish heroes Mordecai and Esther that save the Jewish people and not God. One lesson we can learn from this is that we should not wait for God to perform supernatural miracles as in the story of the exodus but that we as human beings are the ones who control our own destiny.

A different interpretation claims that even though God is not explicitly mentioned, God is indeed present in the story. When Mordecai instructs Esther to help the Jewish people by going to plead with King Ahashverosh, he says to her, “Do not think that you will escape this decree in the house of the king. For if you withhold your help at this time, relief and deliverance will come from another Place, but you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:13-14). Because one of God’s Hebrew names is Hamakom, meaning “the place,” some hold that this is a reference to God and in the end God would have saved the Jews if Esther did not.

Connected to this is that the Purim story is filled with secrecy and things being hidden. There is a secret plot foiled by Mordecai to assassinate the King by two palace guards Bigtan and Teresh. When King Achashverosh tells Haman he wants to honor someone, little does Haman know that the king was referring to Mordecai not Haman. Esther’s identity as a Jew is only known to Mordecai. In fact, her real name is Haddasah. This theme of secrecy may imply to the reader that, although God is not mentioned, God is secretly involved behind the scenes making things turn out well for the Jews.

There is one modern commentator that combines these two understandings. Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin wrote, “Purim teaches us that God will no longer intervene for us and save us, at least not obviously and supernaturally…it says that God will be hidden but not distant, silent but not inactive. God will work through us in our daily lives. And any one of us, every one of us, can become the instrument of God, for good and not for evil, for life and not for death.”

According to this view, God is not the puppet master behind the scenes controlling the actions of people but neither is God totally absent. Since we are created in God’s image, we are partners with God in controlling our own fate. While there are some things that ultimately are out of our control, we play a role in determining the direction of our lives as individuals and as a community. With this comes a responsibility to be active voices in our families and our community and advocate for the values that we hold dear. This is one of the lessons that I will think about this Purim.

Chag Sameach. Happy Purim to all!

Rabbi Brad Horwitz