Our lot in life

'Who knows whether it was precisely for this reason that you have attained your position.'

haredi kids 88 (photo credit: )
haredi kids 88
(photo credit: )
Is life a lottery? Do we drift through this world like so much human flotsam and jetsam, blown about indiscriminately from place to place by the winds of coincidence and caprice? Or is there a rhyme and a reason to the universe, some moving, guiding hand that gently but firmly prods us along, leading us to some logical conclusion of history? Of all the many topical themes presented by Megilat Esther - the Jewish people's battle against a maniacal, genocidal villain, the struggle for Jewish unity, the Diaspora vs. Israel tug-of-war - none is more central than the question of Chance versus Chosenness. For every thinking person ultimately wants to know if life has meaning and purpose, and whether our sojourn on this planet is more about relevance than randomness. At first glance, the Purim story suggests the latter - that very little is within our actual control. Esther "just happens" to be chosen Queen, and thus placed in a strategic position to effect our rescue. Mordechai "just happens" to overhear a plot to assassinate the king, and so is elevated to a position of prominence within the royal court. Haman "just happens" to build the very gallows upon which he himself will be hanged, and the king "just happens" to recall Mordechai's heroic deed at the opportune moment, intensifying Haman's fury and accelerating his demise. It all seems to be a game of chance - or purim, if you will. AS IF to accentuate the haphazard - though fortuitous - confluence of events, God's name is conspicuously absent from the entire narrative. This, of course, is one view. But the Megilat Esther is the kind of delicious document that demands a second look, and a serious re-think. That is why, I suggest, Megilat Esther is the only one of the five megilot which we read publicly not once, but twice; by night and then again by day. For upon second thought, we come to understand that God, and the rabbis (no less than the best authors or screenwriters) authored and directed a script filled with subtlety, irony and no small number of clever twists and turns. Like much of Jewish literature, the real meaning and message of the Purim story lies deep beneath the surface, discernible only to those who care to invest the time and trouble to discern it. What I believe the Megila ultimately teaches us is that life is a partnership between man and God; that each of us has a unique role to play. While God is indeed be the Creator and initiator of history, we humans are not merely helpless bystanders in the story; what we do has meaning and force and consequence. It is we who choose the path of either glory or hell. And so the saga of the Jewish experience is replete with human beings stepping up to make fateful decisions at crucial moments: Moses rejects Pharaoh's palace and casts his lot with the Hebrew slaves; David steps out of the crowd to confront Goliath; Herzl convenes a Zionist Congress, Ben-Gurion declares a State, and so on. Mordechai's biting words to Esther - "Who knows whether it was precisely for this reason that you have attained your position" - is meant for all our ears. God expects us to shoulder our share of the load. THE PURIM story is particularly meaningful in the shadow of the upcoming elections. Parts of the Israeli electorate are filled with an acute apathy - "There's nobody out there!" I hear from all quarters that people seem to feel their votes just don't matter. At a recent pre-election forum we held in Ra'anana, Uzi Dayan, leader of the fledgling Tafnit Party, was asked why he decided to form yet another party. He looked out at the assembled candidates and bemoaned: "There's not a single party out there I would vote for, so I started my own!" A whole lot of citizens look forward to Election Day primarily so they can sleep late or take a hike up north. Yet this is no time to give in to feelings of resignation. History is ours for the making, opportunity is there for the taking, and one of the most effective tools we wield is the power to vote. While we may not particularly like the field of all those running, we have to do the best with what we have. After all, even when all is said and done and our heroes have saved the day in Persia, the Megila records that Mordechai was not universally popular, that he was "acceptable to most" - but not all - of his countrymen. And that, it seems, is our "lot" in life. The writer is director of the Ohel Ari Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana. [email protected]