Unmasking the Purim story

On Purim, we recognize that God’s hand is guiding it all. The King is working behind the scenes.

Purim Tel Aviv 2013 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Purim Tel Aviv 2013
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Unmasking the Purim story Purim celebrates a miraculous salvation that took place over 2,000 years ago, in the Persian- Median Empire. But its message is as relevant today as ever.
Purim literally means a lottery, a reference to the lot that the wicked Haman drew. The name of the holiday implies fate and chance – the roll of the dice, the luck of the draw.
And at first glance, the story of Purim appears to be a series of mere coincidences. When reading the megilah, you get the feeling that the narrative is written like a great piece of classical literature: Heroes and villains, high drama and suspense, climax and denouement.
The fabric of the story is tightly woven. The plot thickens with all of its twists and turns.
But behind this “storybook drama” lies something profound. According to Rabbi Joseph B.
Soloveitchik, one of the lessons of the Purim story is that man is vulnerable. One minute everything is fine and then suddenly, without warning, the Jewish People across the entire Persian Empire are confronted with the threat of destruction.
Is this story merely a string of events strung together with no meaning? Is life just a series of events? Are we merely subject to the whim of an evil tyrant? A pliable king? Esther is one of the books of our holy Bible, but God is not mentioned, not even once. According to our tradition, He is hiding. The Talmud (Hullin 139b) asks, “Where is [there an allusion to] Esther in the Torah?” The Talmud then cites the verse from the Torah’s admonition that speaks of hester panim – God seemingly hiding His face amidst Jewish suffering – “And I will surely hide (haster astir) My face from you.”
And yet, there is a tradition that in the book of Esther, when we read the word ha-Melekh, “the King,” it’s not only a reference to King Achashverosh, but therein lies an allusion to God, the King of Kings.
ON PURIM, we are challenged to see God, the King, in the narrative; to search for him; to seek him out. He appears to be “hidden,” in the fabric of this tightly woven tale, but indeed He is pulling the strings from behind the curtain.
The name of the book itself Megillat Esther, in fact, can be understood to mean “revealing the hidden.”
But it’s not enough to see God in the Purim story; we are challenged to find him in the narrative of our lives: in our trials and tribulations, in the vicissitudes of life; the ups and downs of our personal lives. And it’s true for our national life as well – Purim challenges us to see God behind the curtain on the stage of modern history as it unfolds before our eyes.
Purim is a topsy-turvy day. Everything is upside down. We hide behind costumes to remind us that to truly see is to peel back the layers of perception. Some drink in excess to access a deeper reality, one beyond logic or reason. We recognize that redemption can come in places we least expect it, and that the plans and schemes of our enemies can be foiled just as quickly as they were hatched.
Being human, we are limited in our ability to understand.
Tragic events seem senseless, without a rhyme or reason. World events can seem confusing, with the future uncertain. On Purim, we recognize that God’s hand is guiding it all. The King is working behind the scenes.
We may not understand all of the twists and turns of the plot, but we know the Author.
The writer lives and teaches in Jerusalem and is the author of Mishteh Shimshon on the Laws of Purim. His forthcoming book is Return Again: The Argument for Aliyah.