by Rabbi Yoav Ende
Key to understanding the story we read from the megillah on Purim is the theme of concealment, of hiding.
Certainly, hiding behind a mask is the obvious concealment at play in the story. But a more complex hiddenness is woven into the story, as well. It is a hiddenness that is connected to reality, and to the idea that reality is not exactly what it seems.
As the Torah foretells in Deuteronomy 31:18:
“הסתר אסתיר פני”
“I will surely hide My face on that day”. The Talmud understands this verse as a reference to the miracle of Purim and a paradigm for the manner in which God protects us, even in our darkest hour.
In the Book of Esther, Haman makes many plans, all of which come to pass, but not quite as he expected. In fact, the opposite of what he expects occurs, doesn’t it? Instead of Haman as the victor, it is Mordechai and the Jews who come out victorious.
The characters exit the Purim story in a reality the opposite of that which they entered.
As Purim approaches, perhaps we should too be a little less sure of our current reality, of the path we have chosen to walk on. Perhaps we should be a little less certain that God is speaking through us. And perhaps we should not so easily dismiss those who do not share our version of the truth.
Maybe we need to question our actions, so dependent on our interpretation of our reality, and so crucial as to determine the present we live in and the future we are creating. Most important, though, we must remember that reality — no matter how seemingly certain at any given time — can always reverse itself completely.
Let us, in the spirit of Purim, ask ourselves what might an “alternate” reality be for us here in Israel?
* * *
Isn’t it strange that we agree we want to build a better world for our children, a more sustainable world, a peaceful world, but somehow act in a way that leads to the complete opposite?
Isn’t is strange that we can be just one step away from falling into the darkness of the abyss, but at the same time be fully aware that we are living in the most advanced era of humankind?
Isn’t it strange that the hope for peace in our time is considered naive and even dangerous, but faith in the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead is considered sane? And even necessary?
And finally, isn’t it strange that in a country with such pressing and real challenges, an election campaign can be run where said challenges don’t seem to exist, where there is such incongruence between what is needed and what is actually occurring?
Friends, what reality are we living in?
Perhaps this Purim is here to tell us that our reading of our current reality is false. That we are living in “the upside down.”
And perhaps this Purim is offering this cautionary tale: take care with what you believe to be so, and what you believe to be not so. For there is that which is hidden even in the hiddenness.
* * *
Returning to the megillah, Esther has an important mission, which is to convince Ahasuerus that his reading of reality is incorrect. This is no easy task, but let us consider the more difficult task before us right now – the necessary reality of uniting the people of Israel.
Some may see the Book of Esther as a book whose purpose is to warn Jews in the Diaspora of the threat of assimilation and to encourage immigration to Israel. But too few see the simple meaning inside the megillah, one that is pressing and relevant to those of us already living here in the State of Israel.
If we consider the simple meaning of the story, we could argue that that there is a warning here, one we already know – the Jewish people will not unite unless there is a proverbial knife pressed against our collective throat. This fact is neither a badge of honor to wear proudly, nor an insurance policy to rely on.
On Purim, we do not sanctify luck or fortune (the Hebrew word “purim” means “lot” or “fate”), the fate we do not control, or the despair that we believe can never change. Rather, we sanctify the law above fortune and we sanctify moving forward above meaninglessness, inaction, and lack of faith in the ability to change and improve.
On Purim, we are told to drink until we “cannot tell the difference between cursed Haman and blessed Mordecai.” For one day, we are commanded to realize that we do not necessarily understand that which we consider “reality” and truly, our reality is decided by God. But what happens the next day? We return to our reality, our human reality. It is as if the commandment is to abandon our awareness for one day, but the next day, rather than hope for a changed world, our greatest hope is only that we have not humiliated ourselves.
And perhaps, we are missing out big time?
Something is meant to happen on Purim, something that will affect not just one day, but the next day, and the day after. Something that will change the pattern of our thoughts so that our reality can flip, and flip permanently.
Perhaps Purim is supposed to bring about a change in how we view reality. Let Purim serve as an invitation to us — both as individuals, but also as a collective society — to consider “what is real?” so that we can also “reach the exodus from Egypt.”
And what is important on Purim is breaking the barriers, the walls between us, but by way of love and joy, for “the Divine Presence dwells only in joy”.