Friday, March 18, 2011

Purim: Putting Jews First

Where is God in the Book of Esther? Which chapter, which verse? If you are looking for God in the story of Esther (other than through gematria, an interpretive tool that locates meaning in the numeric value attributed to letters), you will be disappointed. Indeed, Purim is a story all about that which is hidden and hard to find. The name Esther, our hero's name, conveys two important pieces of information: 1) She has a Persian/Akkadian name (her Hebrew name is Hadas) and 2) The term seter סתר, which means secret or hidden, is embedded in her name.

The history of the Persian Jews is similar to our lives today. Most of us have Hebrew and English names, and being Jewish is often a secondary or hidden identity. Moreover, God does not always make God's presence known in an explicit way. As such, it is upon us, the Jewish people, to secure our own safety and success.

At one point, Mordechai says to a scared Esther, that she must speak up and act in order to save the Jewish people: In Esther 4:14, Mordechai adjures:

יד כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת--רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ; וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ--אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת.14 For if you altogether remain silent at this time, do you expect relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place? No, you and your father's house will perish; and who knows whether you have risen to power for this time?'

It has been argued that Purim is a holiday where the covenant with God is restored. Even when God's face is hidden, even far away from the Land of Israel, we rose to the challenge of retaining our commitment to life, Judaism, and most importantly, the Jewish people. We owe the same to our people today, especially when the challenges we face, thank God, are not as dire as those of our ancestors.

Chag Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!