Why Celebrating Purim Is Important Today
Why Should We Celebrate Purim 2000 Years Later?
Why is celebrating Purim important in the 21st century – or even at all? Sure, Purim was marked as the “holiday that would never be forgotten,” and celebrates the salvation of the Jewish nation, but it is also the rare holiday where God doesn’t take center stage in the story. The Megillah pores over every twist and turn of Esther and Mordechai’s actions, yet only hints at God’s involvement once – with an ambiguous reference at that. Is the Megillah suggesting that a little bit of glory goes to the characters, as well? Is this a clue that Purim celebrates our own contribution, alongside God’s?
Of course, we recognize that Purim celebrates the work of God’s helping hand “in the background”. We know that the string of “consequences” that ultimately saved the Jewish nation weren’t by chance at all; God was there, pulling the strings – just as He always is, like today, even if we can’t see His presence. That certainly seems like a significant reason to celebrate Purim for all eternity.
But isn’t it a valid question to acknowledge that we also put in some of the hard work for our achievements? After all, aren’t we partly responsible for our own promotion, carrying a baby for nine months, or finishing a university degree? How are we meant to embrace the theological message that God is responsible for absolutely everything in our lives?
This Purim video sets out to resolve this paradox and uncover a meaningful purpose as to why Purim is perhaps even the most important celebration for our modern lives today.
Watch more Purim videos.
Purim is almost here! Let's get ready, time to shower God with appreciation, and thanks, for…
Wait a second – did God do anything on Purim? I'm not so sure. Let's go over the story.
Why Do We Even Celebrate Purim?The Jews are all living in the Persian Empire, and one Jew named Mordechai manages to get on Haman's bad side, the king's chief adviser. Naturally, Haman responds by convincing the king to order all the Jews in the empire to be killed. But fortunately for the Jews, Mordechai's cousin, Esther, happens to be the queen, and the king happens not to know she's Jewish. So, Esther wines and dines her husband, and at the right moment, reveals her identity, begs for her life, and names Haman as her would-be murderer. The king has Haman executed, and the genocide decree is undone.
And if he isn't, then, what kind of holiday is this, anyway? Do we even do holidays without God? What would we be celebrating even? I mean sure, a major crisis for the Jewish people was averted. But that was over twenty three hundred years ago. Think about that.
Let's say that, God forbid, you're driving with your whole family just after a snowstorm, and you go over a patch of black ice. The car goes into a spin, there's traffic approaching from behind, and you have no control. At the last second, you manage to veer the car off onto the shoulder. After something like that, you'd probably be grateful just to be alive. So, it makes sense that the anniversary would become a special day for your family. But how long would you expect that to last? Ten years? Fifty? Would you expect that to continue with your grandchildren or great-grandchildren? Probably not. Like it or not, people move on. So, why haven't we moved on from Purim?
What Does Purim Really Celebrate?Now, I know many of us have been taught from a young age that God is involved in the story of Purim. He's just behind the scenes, pulling the strings. And, the truth is, the Megillah does offer some evidence to support this. Just after Haman's decree is issued, Mordechai comes to Esther to try to convince her to approach the king, and this is what he says:
"Im Hacharesh Tacharishi BaEt HaZot" – if you choose to be silent, to bow out at this critical moment – "Revach VeHatzalah Ya'amod LaYehudim MiMakom Acher" – salvation will still come from somewhere else.
Yup, that's right. He says that he has complete confidence that, one way or another, the Jews will walk out of this crisis just fine, with or without Esther's help.
That's a bold claim to make, but, it's also very vague. What is this "somewhere else," this magical Plan B? Well...what are the possibilities? We haven't heard anything about sleeper cells in the Persian government, or hitmen with dossiers on Haman. So we're kind of left to infer that Mordechai is talking about God. God has the backs of the Jews, and whether Esther steps up or not, He won't let anything happen to them.
So there it is – if you believe Mordechai, not only is God operating behind the scenes, He's got it covered so well that Mordechai and Esther don't even really matter! God is going to save the day no matter what, with or without them, and basically, all they can hope for is a chance to play a supporting role. So Purim is just like all the other holidays – God is the big hero.
Except for one teeny tiny little problem. Something still doesn't make sense. Wouldn't you think that if a story in the Torah only has one reference to God – which in itself is really strange – wouldn't it be played up, shouted from the rooftops? Why wouldn't Mordechai say something like, "Hope and salvation will come to the Jews from Hashem?" mention God by name? Why mask God with this euphemism, this cryptic "Makom Acher," "some other place"? It feels like the Megillah has an agenda here, It's almost as though it's saying "Pay no attention to the God behind the curtain," just focus on Mordechai and Esther. They're the main characters, they're the heroes of this story.
So I'm confused. Which is it? Is God the hero here, or are Mordechai and Esther the heroes? We're getting completely mixed signals.
I think that the solution to this paradox lies in a critical idea about the nature of our relationship with God, and that this idea not only helps us understand Purim, but also makes Purim different from all other holidays. In fact, it makes Purim the most meaningful holiday for our lives today.
Why Is Purim Celebrated?See, most of our holidays commemorate big, flashy miracles, like the Exodus, or the giving of the Torah. Now let me ask you: how do you think you might have felt if you were there for one of those moments? I'm sure you'd be awestruck, maybe thrilled, maybe terrified. But I'd bet you'd also feel like you're kind of in the shadows. Think about it – imagine you were a slave in Egypt during the times of the ten plagues. God is busy putting on the ultimate show, showing off his control of a different law of nature every other Tuesday. But you? You're basically just standing there, watching; God's on stage, and you're in the audience.
This feels completely disconnected from our everyday lives, where God doesn't seem to be on stage at all. We're all pursuing our dreams, working hard to put food on our tables, and being there for our families and friends. It almost feels like God is off in a dark corner somewhere backstage, not actually involved in the performance at all. But is that right? When we're in the spotlight, does God slink off to the shadows?
Some people will tell you, "Of course not. He's doing everything, even when you think you are. God is responsible for your promotion. God taught that killer class, God carried that baby for nine months." But...it's hard to take that seriously. We really do put in hard work, and we know there's a strong correlation between our efforts and what we achieve. How can we say that's all just an illusion?
Purim can answer this question, because Purim is the holiday with no miracles. It's the everyday holiday. The holiday when Mordechai and Esther, two ordinary people, are the heroes. All the megillah talks about is their brilliant political machinations and their heroic initiative; God doesn't even get a shoutout. And yet, even without being mentioned, God is still subtly present. He's there in the coincidences. He's there in the improbabilities. He's there in that confident statement Mordechai makes, that "Revach v'hatzalah yaamod layhudim mimakom acher" – God is that "other place" that would ultimately save them.
So why is it so important not to mention Him, if He's there anyway? Because Mordechai and Esther were emphasizing the human role in this victory, alongside the Godly role. Because the spiritual message of this holiday is that it's not either or – either God's on stage, or we are. There is actually a great partnership between us and God, where we work in tandem, together.
Why Purim Celebration Is Important TodayOn Purim, there's no flashy miracle to celebrate. God didn't step into the spotlight – instead, He supported us while we were in the spotlight. Purim represents that, between the arrogance of believing that our accomplishments are ours alone, and the over-piousness of believing we never really do anything, there's a middle ground, where we can accomplish great things – with divine support.
So, on Purim, let's shower God with appreciation, and thanks, for... saving the day from behind the scenes. But, let's also appreciate what Mordechai and Esther did, and what that means for us. It means that even if we don't see God on stage, He's closer than we think.
Whatever we achieve, we can be grateful to God and proud of ourselves – at the same time. And, in a world that can sometimes seem dark, we can step up, right now, today, this minute – and know we're not alone. Happy Purim.