Discovering the hidden message of Purim in the Scroll of Esther

By Rabbi Brad Horwitz

This week Jews all over the world will celebrate the fun holiday of Purim.  Part of that celebration will include the reading of the Scroll of Esther, which recounts the story of the Jews in Persia.  One interesting phenomenon is that in the Scroll of Esther, God’s name is never mentioned.  It is the actions of the Jewish heroes Mordecai and Esther that save the Jewish people and not God.  One lesson we can learn from this is that we should not wait for God to perform supernatural miracles as in the story of the exodus from Egypt, but that we as human beings are the ones who control our own destiny.

A different interpretation claims that even though God is not explicitly mentioned, God is indeed present in the story.  When Mordecai instructs Esther to help the Jewish people by going to plead with King Ahashverosh, he says to her, “Do not think that you will escape this decree in the house of the king.  For if you withhold your help at this time, relief and deliverance will come from another Place, but you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:13-14).  Because one of God’s Hebrew names is Hamakom, meaning “the place,” some hold that this is a reference to God and in the end God would have saved the Jews if Esther did not.

Furthermore, one of the main themes of the story is secrecy.  There is a secret plot foiled by Mordecai to assassinate the King by two palace guards Bigtan and Teresh.  When King Achashverosh tells Haman he wants to honor someone, little does Haman know but he was referring to Mordecai, not Haman.  Queen Esther’s identity as a Jew is only known to Mordecai.  In fact, her real name is Haddasah. This theme of secrecy may imply to the reader that, although God is not mentioned, God is secretly involved behind the scenes, making things turn out well for the Jews.

There is one modern commentator that combines these two understandings.  Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin wrote, “Purim teaches us that God will no longer intervene for us and save us, at least not obviously and supernaturally…it says that God will be hidden but not distant, silent but not inactive.  God will work through us in our daily lives.  And any one of us, every one of us, can become the instrument of God, for good and not for evil, for life and not for death.”

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According to this view, God is not the puppet master behind the scenes controlling the actions of people but neither is God totally absent.  Since we are created in God’s image we are partners with God in controlling our own fate.  While there are some things that ultimately are out of our control, we play a role in determining the direction of our lives as individuals and as a community.  With this comes a responsibility to be active voices in our families and our community and advocate for the values that we hold dear.  This is one of the key  lessons that I ask us all to consider as we celebrate Purim this year.

Chag Purim Sameach! Happy Purim!