Parasha picture 521.
(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
One of the strangest books of our Holy Scriptures is the Scroll (Megilla) of
Esther, which seems antithetical to some of the major ideas and ideals of the
other biblical writings.
First of all, the major “persona” in the Bible’s
history of Israel is God Almighty, who directs all the significant events in
Israel’s development from a commanding position. Indeed, there is barely a verse
in any biblical book without one of the sacred Names of God – except for the
Scroll of Esther, which doesn’t mention His name even once! Moreover, a major
theme throughout the Tanach is the centrality of the Land of Israel – except for
the Scroll of Esther, which takes place in the exile of Babylon-Persia and
concludes with the miraculous survival of the Jews there, under the rule of
Contrast this with the parallel Scroll of Ruth, which –
although it begins in the plains of Moab – concludes with the birth of David,
progenitor of the Messiah, in Efrat and Bethlehem, Israel.
incongruous features of the megilla make the last of Maimonides’s laws of Purim
extremely difficult to understand: “All the books of the prophets, and all the
sacred writings will be nullified in the days of the Messiah, except for the
Scroll of Esther, which will remain together with the Five Books of the
Pentateuch and the laws of the Oral Torah, which will never be nullified, as it
is written, ‘the earlier tribulations shall be forgotten’ (Isaiah 65:16). The
days of Purim will not be nullified, as it is written: ‘And these days of Purim
shall never be removed from the midst of the Jews, and their remembrance will
never end’” Since God’s name and the Land of Israel symbolize eternity – and the
Talmud explains that we do not recite the Hallel psalms of praise on Purim
because even at the end of the book, the protagonists remain in exile, slaves of
Ahasuerus – it is exceedingly strange that out of all of the books of the Bible,
it is this scroll on which Maimonides bestows eternity.
I believe that a
prophecy of Jeremiah will help us explain both anomalies: why God’s name doesn’t
appear in the Esther Scroll, and why Purim will be celebrated even in the days
of the Messiah.
Jeremiah was the tragic seer of the destruction of the
First Temple, but he’s also the prophet of our eventual Redemption. In chapter
31, he pictures Matriarch Rachel crying out to God as the Jews pray at her grave
on the way to their Babylonian captivity.
The Almighty answers her:
“There is reward for your acts of lovingkindness. Your children will return to
the borders of their land.”
Jeremiah goes on to say that he sees a new
creation, which will come near the time of our promised Redemption: “A woman
will run circuits around a man.” The sacred Zohar links this verse to the custom
of a bride doing seven circuits around her groom under the nuptial canopy, and
interprets the verse to mean that the bride will dominate the groom.
the Zohar, every nuptial is derived from the sacred union between the Almighty
and His bride, Israel. In biblical times, when Israel was still in her infancy,
God had to take center stage in our redemption from Egypt. However, in the
ultimate Redemption with the coming of the Messiah, “the woman – the Jewish
people, Klal Yisrael [all Israel] – will run circuits around and dominate the
Almighty,” by taking the initiative in bringing about the coming of the
This process of redemption initiated by Bride Israel began in
the time with the period of the Second Temple, when the Oral Law, dominated by
our rabbinical leaders of our people, gained sway over the Written Torah –
dominated by God Himself. Whereas God’s name appears in virtually every verse of
the Bible, it is the rabbis Rava and Abaye, Ravina and Rav Ashi whose names fill
the pages of the Talmud (Mishna and Gemara).
The victory over Haman was
magnificently orchestrated by Esther, who placed her life on the line to save
her people; “The woman ran circuits around the man,” when Esther, rather than
God, is given credit for initiating the victory. Hence God’s name doesn’t appear
in the scroll. Yes, He plays a crucial role behind the scenes, but the perceived
leader is Esther, aided by Mordecai and the coming together of all the Jews in
Since a new reality is expressed by the Esther Scroll – the fact
that Knesset Israel is to initiate the ultimate Redemption – the Festival of
Purim will always remain the paradigm for the Messianic Age. And was it not
because of the initiative of the “religious Zionists” – the fact that we did not
stand around and wait for the Messiah, but rather took redemption into our own
hands and began to resettle and fight for our homeland after nearly 2,000 years
of exile – and so the State of Israel remains our beacon of hope not only for
the future of our people but also for the world.
The writer is the
founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and
chief rabbi of Efrat.