The Face Behind the Mask
How do we find God when His face is hidden?
Purim teaches us how to relate to God in a time when seas don't split, when bushes don't burn, when plagues don't befall our enemies.
The story of Purim occurred after the destruction of the First Temple, when the era of prophecy was coming to a close. People no longer saw open miracles. It was a time of concealment.
Where do we find "Esther" in the Torah? In the verse: "And I will hide (astir) my face from them on that day." (Talmud - Chulin 139b)
Rashi: "In the days of Esther there will be hester panim (hiddeness of God's face)."
GOD'S GUIDING HAND
Have you ever felt God clearly in your life? A time when you felt a force greater than yourself somehow shaping and leading events?
I remember a time when I felt that guiding force. I had just met the man who was to be my husband. But I didn't know it then. To make a long story short, we broke up because our lives seemed to be heading in different directions.
Shortly thereafter, I was called by a total stranger, out of the blue, and offered a job in a position completely outside my realm of expertise. I took the job simply because it aroused my curiosity.
To this day I don't know why I was called for this interview. But as a result of that job, I met up again with my ex-date. I also ended up changing my choice of career, some of my attitudes, and even one or two character traits. And two years after our initial meeting, I married my husband and embarked on a future with him that would never have been in my script, had my life gone according to my "plan."
We are not in full control even though we often imagine that we are.
Judaism posits that God shapes every single event in our lives with direct supervision. Nothing is pure chance. Our circumstances are not coincidences. Everything is directed.
AMALEK, THE NATION OF CHANCE
Others do not share this view.
Amalek was a nation that first battled against Israel on their way out of Egypt.
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you left Egypt, that he chanced upon you on the way. (Deut. 25:17-18)
In the Torah, Amalek is described in Hebrew as a nation who karcha ("chanced"). This word comes from the root mikre, meaning "happenstance or coincidence." Thus we learn that the belief in chance is Amalek's essence.
How else could they have disregarded all the miracles that the Jews had experienced -- the Ten Plagues and the Exodus, culminating in the splitting of the Red Sea -- and have still dared to fight against those same Jews?! They must have said: "Mere coincidence!"
Haman, a descendent of Amalek, decided to get rid of the Jewish people of Persia. He cast "lots" (purim in Hebrew) to determine a date in which to kill them. He wanted it to be a random event.
The Jews, on the other hand, use lots to allow for Divine intervention to be revealed. Upon entering the Land of Israel in the days of Joshua, the division of land among the tribes was done by lottery. This allowed God's will to express itself without human choices getting involved in such an important endeavor.
When Mordechai sends a message to Queen Esther, telling her about Haman's plan, the text reads kol asher karahu -- "everything that happened." As the Midrash explains:
Mordechai called for Hatach and said, "Go tell her (Esther): 'The grandson of karahu, ("chance,") has come upon you!' As it says in the Torah: 'Who chanced upon you on the way.'" (Midrash - Esther Rabah 8:5)
That nation we know from our national past as believing in meaningless and randomness has again reared its ugly head.
PURIM STORY: ANTITHESIS OF CHANCE
Each event in the Megillah is natural and possible, and seems to be orchestrated entirely by human beings and their choices:
1) A king gets drunk and decides to call for his wife to appear before the guests. That could happen.
2) The wife, Vashti, refuses to appear before the king. The king decides to kill her. Esther is chosen queen. That's possible.
3) Haman chooses to kill Mordechai and ask permission from king. Could Be.
4) The king has insomnia one night and remembers an old favor he needs to repay to Mordechai. Possible.
But when ALL of these incidents happen to coincide, when ALL the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle come together in one huge "coincidence," they form nothing short of a miracle.
It may be hidden, but a directing force becomes obvious all the same.
Each event which Haman thought he controlled, turned out to bring about his downfall. His suggestion to kill Vashti, the queen, caused the positioning of Esther as redeemer. His suggestion to use the kings robes and horse -- born of his desire to honor himself by parading around on the king's horse -- became the perfect reward for Mordechai's deed. And the hand-built gallows he intended for Mordechai were those used for his own hanging.
Throughout the Megillah story, God directs events and takes advantage of people's free will choices to form a tapestry of purpose and destiny -- the redemption of the Jewish people.
THE ERA OF HIDDENESS
Throughout the entire story of Purim, the name of God isn't mentioned. It is an era of hiddeness of God's face (hester panim). But more than ever, it is clear how God is running the show. There are simply too many "coincidences." The links fit together too well.
Another point to keep in mind: The Megillah spans a nine-year period. When it is compressed into one book and we read it in half an hour, we see with perspective and hindsight how every painful event was working towards a purposeful end. However, when we're in the midst of a difficult situation, we tend to see only the darkness and confusion.
The particular message of the day, then, is to understand God's guiding hand in history and in the mundane affairs of this world.
Olam, "world," comes from the root ne'elam, "hidden." God's name doesn't appear. But when all is said and done, His presence is recognized everywhere. He is not concealed. He only appears to be. It is up to us to find Him in every event of our lives.
We need only read between the lines.