Pondering Purim Paradoxes

Friday, 18 March, 2022 - 2:22 pm

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Purim is a holiday filled with paradoxes like a Hamantash is filled with… (insert favorite filling here).

On one hand, the political circumstances of the Jews have never been better in times of exile (aside from our contemporary days). The Queen of Persia was a member of the tribe. Mordechai, a top ranked member of the Sanhedrin, was also a prominent courtier and advisor to King Achashverosh. Jews were welcomed and successfully integrated into Persian society. From the standpoint of security, it would be hard to find a rival time in the history of our exile when the Jews were better equipped to diplomatically address any threat.

On the other hand, there has never been a threat that was more existential than Haman’s ultimate final solution for annihilating Am Yisrael. Every single Jew in the world lived under Persian sovereignty. Haman’s stated plan to was to kill every single Jew, young and old, men, women, and children, in a single day. He had the authority and the power to carry out his plan. What Hitler tried, unsuccessfully, thank G-d, to achieve in 7 years, Haman was actually capable of accomplishing in one day. He had orders to the leadership and citizenry of each of the 127 provinces to strike against the Jews and exterminate them in one fell swoop.

On the other hand, when Mordechai and Esther sought to alleviate Haman’s threat, they did not rely on their connections and political security. The first step they took was creating a spiritual awakening of prayer and fasting on the part of the Jewish people. In fact, Esther, whose beauty was ostensibly going to be the ticket to salvation, fasted for three days before approaching the king to save her people. Not exactly the best recipe for looking your best.

On the other hand, when reading the Book of Esther, which is absent of a mention of G-d altogether, one might mistakenly conclude that that the entire story was a sequence of natural occurrences.

On the other hand, the G-dless narrative was included in scripture, and is full of allusions to the hidden Hand of G-d, pulling the strings “behind the scenes.”

On the other hand, the primary observances of Purim are very physical in nature, giving us the impression that we are simply celebrating “they tried to kill us, we won; let’s eat.”

On the other hand, Purim contains some of the deepest spiritual mysteries of the Torah, causing our sages to declare that the celebration of Purim and the book of Esther, will survive into the times of Mashiach, when most other aspects of Judaism will pale in comparison to the great revelations of Redemption.

Actually, there are no paradoxes here at all. It all makes perfect sense. We Jews have never been governed by the natural order. Our survival and thriving, is linked to our relationship with Hashem. When we let our guard down and think that we are secure, we get a rude awakening. That awakening sparks a spiritual revival, pushing us to discover that the ultimate was to serve Hashem is by integrating spirituality into everyday physical life, which leads us on the path to Redemption. See, it all wraps up nicely with a bow on top, just like a beautiful Mishloach Manot package.

L'chaim and happy Shushan Purim
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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