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February 24, 1989 - Image 63

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

The Hidden Hand Of God

Continued from Page L-1

the self-mockery of Purim, the
happiness and light-hearted spirit
which prevail during this holiday,
has a deeper meaning. For Purim
expresses a central truth about the
character of the Jewish people and
its tradition. This side of Purim, the
side of Purim behind the masks and
costumes is expressed by our
tradition's understanding of the
Book of Esther, whose public
reading is the highlight of the
holiday.
The story in the Book of Esther
is a melodramatic tale of court
intrigue, which records the story of
the rescue of the Jewish community
in Persia from extinction. Esther is
chosen in a beauty contest to be
queen over Vashti who is banished.
The courtier, Haman, becomes the
grand vizier, but Mordechai, Esther's
relative, refuses to bow down to
him. Haman decides to punish all
the Jews by killing them and
convinces the ridiculous king
Ahasuerus to agree to have all the
Jews hanged.
Mordechai and Esther work out
a plan to thwart Haman's designs.
Esther wines and dines king
Ahasuerus, wins his favor and
reveals her Jewish identity and
pleads with him to save the Jews.
Haman is hanged and the Jews
secure unbelievable power.
Mordechai and Esther are the
heroes of the day and Purim is
instituted as a holiday.
What is striking about the Book
of Esther is that nowhere does God
speak or act. In fact, God is never
mentioned in the book. But this
omission is the whole point: only
through the actions of people is
God's presence manifest in history.

The process of redemption
begins with Mordechai, who publicly
wears sackcloth and ashes and
concludes with Esther's ability to
change king Ahasuerus' mind.
During Purim God has retreated, as
it were, behind the curtain of history
and human actors have come
center stage. The actions of
Mordechai, Esther and Ahasuerus
are manifestations of God's
redemptive involvement in history
for where else do God and human
beings meet if not through human
events.
The Talmud teaches that "God
created human beings to be His
partners in creation." Judaism is a
religion of action. Redemption, even
the partial redemption of Purim and
of subsequent generations is the
result of a Divine-human effort.
The Jewish experience in
history has been a rocky one. We
have survived centuries of
persecution and oppression.
However, we are the only people to
have survived antiquity. This is so
because we as a people always

believed in the power of redemption
and in our role in bringing about
that redemption. The Book of Esther
and the celebration of Purim and
the fantasy world we create along
with it mitigate the tensions caused
by centuries of anti-Semitism.
Purim permits the Jewish
people to release its frustration and
anxiety. It preserves the sanity of
the Jewish people alongside its
fervent hopes and dreams. It affirms
the bright moments of victory and
redemption and denies the long
bleak centuries of persecution.
Purim, therefore, became a
metaphor of the Jewish experience
in history and a paradigm to
observe and recall the victory of
Jewish communities in the Diaspora
over their enemies. Thus, there
arose in the Middle Ages the
custom of celebrating days known

as special purims or "purim katan,
minor purim." These days were
modeled after the holiday of Purim
with fasting on the day before,
reading a "megillah" that recounted
the story of salvation and recital of
certain prayers.
Such observances have their
basis in the way in which the rabbis
connected the Torah reading for the
week before Purim to the holiday.
On that Sabbath we read the
commandment to remember to blot
out the memory of Amalek. Haman,
according to the Book of Esther is
related to Amalek. The custom of
yelling and making noise with noise-
makers on Purim gives literal
expression to fulfilling this command
by literally drowning out the name of
Haman.
But the observance of Purim
goes beyond screaming and noise-

making. It communicates a sense of
triumph, of optimism and of self-
confidence even during times of
great turmoil and conflict.
The rabbis of the midrash teach
that "when all the festivals will be
abolished in messianic times, only
Purim and Yom Kippur will remain."
It is no accident that Purim, the
least holy day and Yom Kippur, the
most holy day, of the Jewish year
have a special relationship. On Yom
Kippur we observe self-restraint. On
Purim we celebreate self-release.
On Yom Kippur we return to God
through repentance and intro-
spection. On Purim we help God to
perfect His world through our
involvement in our destiny. We
rejoice in our victory of aiding God
to redeem our people and the
world. And this is certainly plenty to
be happy about!

Purim Time Puzzle

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Reprinted from Word Find,
published by Ktay.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

L-3

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