Two generations ago, a nation attempted to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth. Purim is a holiday that takes us back to the first time in history such a genocide against the Jews had been attempted – some 2,300 years ago.
The Short Version of the Purim Story
The holiday of Purim marks the Jews’ salvation from the plot of Haman, a high officer of the Persian Empire, an advisor to King Achashverosh. Haman’s rage against the Jews was incited by the failure of a single Jew, Mordechai, to bow before him as he passed by. (The big question is: why didn't Mordechai just bow?) Rather than seeking to do away with Mordechai alone for this slight, Haman plotted revenge against Mordechai’s entire people. Haman
A CASUAL ROLL OF THE DICE WOULD BE THE INSTRUMENT THAT SEALS THEIR END, WHILE THE JEWS’ GOD WOULD STAND HELPLESSLY BY.
In an act laden with symbolism, Haman cast lots to find the day upon which he and his minions would destroy the Jews. In leaving the day of the Jews’ demise entirely up to chance, Haman’s message was unmistakable: The Jews, who believed in the providence of a beneficent God, a being they heralded as Master of the Universe – these Jews would be subject to the blind whim of fate. A casual roll of the dice would be the instrument that seals their end, while the Jews’ God would stand helplessly by.
The Historical Context of Purim
Haman’s challenge came at a crucial point in history. Seen in its largest sense, Haman’s provocations were a test, as it were, of whether Divine influence would still be felt at the close of a grand era of Biblical history. It was a test of whether God was still relevant in a new and vastly different age – an age when miracles no longer prevailed, an age of what we might call “normalcy.”
The events of Purim took place at
It was in this context that Haman’s roll of the dice was particularly terrifying. With God in the background and miracles laid aside, could there
In the end, the Jews were saved from Haman’s plot – but, pointedly, they were saved in a non-miraculous fashion. In the events of Purim, serendipitous happenings conspired to bring about unexpected
THE MESSAGE OF THE BOOK OF ESTHER IS THAT GOD IS THERE EVEN WHEN HE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE THERE.
Behind the Scenes
The king happened to do away with his first queen – and happened to replace her with Esther, a girl who happened to be a Jew. Mordechai, Esther’s relative, happened to overhear, and foil, an
All of these apparent coincidences conspire to save Mordechai – and ultimately the rest of the Jews, as well – from imminent demise.
The Scroll of Esther – the book that tells of the miracle of Purim – has the distinction of being the only book of the Bible that does not mention the name of God. It may seem strange for an entire book of the Biblical canon to avoid mention of the Almighty; after all, if the Bible isn’t about God, what is it about? But that’s the whole point. The message of the Book of Esther is that God is there even when He doesn’t seem to be there. God’s presence in history is felt not just when the sea splits or when divine fire descends upon a mountaintop in full view of an entire nation. These fireworks are nice, but they aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of Divine influence in the world. God is present in the everyday workings of life and history as well.
Understanding the Story of Purim in a Nutshell
God’s Will is present not just when the laws of nature are suspended. To the contrary, the very workings of these laws are manifestations of the Divine. Every time a falling body adheres to the inverse square law of gravitational attraction; every time molecules dissipate in space in consonance with the second law of thermodynamics; every time a river flows downstream – every time these things happen, God’s Will is done in the world. And so it is with history. It is not just when plagues free the slaves of Egypt that God works in history; God’s influence is more subtle than that. He can be present, mysteriously, in the smallest and least obtrusive of ways.
Chekhov once said that if a rifle lies above the mantle in Act I of a play, it had better go off before Act III. The mark of a good playwright is that no plot element is superfluous. Everything, ultimately, gets used. And the same goes for the Great Playwright in the Sky. Everything we humans do “gets used” in the play we call life. But not necessarily in the way we imagine, or design.
The king asks Haman how the man the king wishes to
We all have choices to make. The making of those choices is up to us human beings; that is how we cast our lots in life. But what happens after we cast our lot – that is no longer up to us. One of the messages of
Dive Deeper into the Story of Purim
This article originally appeared in "Jewish Life" magazine. Reprinted with permission from aish.com.