Purim – A Message for Our Time

Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and a regular contributor to GTJ.

Purim is probably the happiest holiday on the Jewish calendar. Kids dress up, adults get inebriated, and many people use the day to let loose. A person who has read the Purim story can see why. After all, it’s a day to celebrate the Jewish people’s escape from near annihilation! But a deeper understanding of the eternally applicable message of Purim can help us to better appreciate its greatness.

The story of Purim is the only story in the entire Tanach (Hebrew Bible) in which G-d’s name is not mentioned. The story appears to be one long string of crazy coincidences, and at the end, the Jews are saved from Haman’s wicked plot to destroy them. G-d is not mentioned, but only a fool couldn’t see that G-d was intricately involved throughout the entire story. There is an old saying that coincidence is an eleven-letter name for G-d. Purim demonstrates this sentiment in a powerful way.

The Purim story contains a message that is especially important for us today. There is a Mishna that teaches that one who recites the Megilla (scroll of Esther) backwards has not performed the obligation of reading the Megilla on Purim. The Baal Shemtov (18th century founder of Chassidism) expounds on this verse that one who reads the Megilla and thinks that the events of the story are things of the past that are not relevant to today has not fulfilled his obligation. The story of Purim is supposed to teach

every Jew how one should face life in all times.

When we hear the word ‘miracle,’ most of us think of the obvious miracles such as the splitting of the Red Sea, the Ten Plagues, or the Chanukah oil burning for eight days. These were miracles in which G-d clearly demonstrated His rule over nature. However, the most superior type of miracle is one that occurs within nature. Chassidut explains that the entire purpose of creation was so that G-d could dwell within the lowest world – that of physicality or nature.

Many of the nations and philosophies of the world believe today just as they did then that things occur in the world haphazardly. Everything is ‘random,’ some say. When we celebrate Purim we testify that this is not so! G-d runs the world and there is a plan. Our actions do matter and life has meaning and purpose. When we boo at the top of our lungs at the mention of Haman’s name during the Megilla reading, we are rejecting that entirely cracked way of seeing the world.

Many often wonder why G-d doesn’t perform open miracles today. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence) is the means by which G-d communicates with us in our time. The goal of creation is that we as finite human beings living in a physical world should recognize and acknowledge G-d and G-d’s hand in everything in our mundane, everyday lives. The challenge is to see G-d and his constant miracles in everything – our workday, at the post-office, on the street, and in current events. Our job in this world is to see and be grateful for all of the miracles that take place in our lives.

Maimonides writes that in the Messianic era all 24 books of Tanach will be abrogated except the Five Books of Moses (the Torah) and Megillas Esther. This is because in the Messianic era G-d’s essence will be fully revealed in the world. By celebrating Purim we call this state of being into reality.[1]

Have a joyous, miraculous, and illuminating Purim!

[1] http://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/480943/jewish/Miracles-Masked.htm