This week the Jewish world is observing the holiday of Purim. The story of this holiday is told in the Biblical book of Esther.
On the surface, it’s a story of the Jewish People being threatened with annihilation by Haman, a royal official who seems to hate Jews because one Jew, Mordecai, won’t bow down to him; and the Jews being saved by the courage of one woman, Queen Esther. In American Jewish communities it has largely become a children’s holiday. In the shorthand version of more than one Jewish holiday, “They tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat!”
But on closer examination, it is not so simple, and it clearly isn’t meant to be only for children:
- This is one of two books in the Hebrew Bible in which God is never mentioned (extra points for naming the other book); and yet the tradition insists that God is very much present in the story, in the actions of the characters;
- Esther, whose name in Hebrew means ‘the hidden one,’ tells no one she is a Jew until her life is threatened along with all the rest of her people;
- It turns out Haman hates the Jews, not just because Mordecai won’t bow down to him, but because he is the descendant of the Amalekites, a people whom the Jews tried to wipe out a thousand years earlier.
But nothing is as it seems in the beginning of the story. And the tensions of the story are not resolved until all are shown for who and what they really are. Purim is celebrated with fun and games, but for those who see the story and the characters clearly, there is an element of terror just underneath the celebration.
Do we see the world as it really is? Are we missing the presence of God, even when it may not seem obvious?
Mordecai pays attention to the details; Esther risks her life to save her people. The world can be a scary place; but if we pay attention, if we are courageous, if we recognize the presence of God in the world, we will overcome our fear in the end, and survive, as did the Jews of Shushan in the Book of Esther.
Rabbi Hillel Katzir
Jewish Action Network of Northern Colorado
Northern Colorado Faith Caucus