The Purim paradigm

Looking to the Book of Jeremiah to find this elusive holiday’s significance.

Parasha picture 521 (photo credit: Israel Weiss)
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 Ahasuerus.
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.
These two 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.
For 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 Messiah.
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 Persia.
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.