Tonight the Jewish holiday of Purim begins—a chance to reflect on the hidden miracles in life. So what exactly is this holiday all about?
Posted in , Mar 7, 2012
To those not of the Jewish faith, Purim must seem like a pretty strange Jewish holiday. I am Jewish, and it always seemed odd to me. We dress up in costumes, shake and wave noisemakers around and eat triangle-shaped cookies meant to resemble either an evil man's hat or his ears (depending on your interpretation).
But the strangest part of this "Jewish Halloween" may be the story of the holiday itself. Unlike other events commemorated by the Jews, this story is missing a pretty major character: God.
The Purim story begins at a feast for the king of the Persian Empire. Upset that his wife disobeys his orders to appear, the king gets rid of her. He summons all the single women of the kingdom to his court in search of a new bride. He chooses a beautiful orphan, Esther, not knowing she is Jewish.
Shortly afterward, Esther's uncle, Mordechai, who has raised her since she was a little girl, uncovers a plot to murder the king. He reports it to Esther, who saves the king's life.
Years later, Mordechai offends the king's grand vizier, Haman, by refusing to bow down before him. He says that Jews only bow down before God. Haman vows to kill the man and all the Jews in the kingdom. He convinces the king that all Jews are treacherous and must be destroyed. He casts lots to pick the day the deed is to be done.
Mordechai finds out about Haman's plot and tells Esther. Esther approaches the king and tells him it was Mordechai who was responsible for saving his life. The king finally rewards Mordechai for his noble act. Esther then reveals that she is Jewish. Confronted with the fact that two Jews saved his life (and one is his wife), the king puts the kibosh on Haman's evil plan. Haman is executed (and ever since, when we say his name, we blot it out with the noisemakers).
Esther and Mordechai save the Jews through their bravery and cunning. So where are the miracles?
I read an excellent article today by Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov that explains why this holiday is very much one for celebrating God's love:
“Who would have thought that in the Bible, there'd be an entire section without God showing up? But show up He did, just not in a revealed manner. This is what the Purim holiday is all about—seeing God in the supposed 'chance,' 'luck' and 'coincidences' in our lives; seeing God in the natural events and the political maneuvering. For this reason, we dress up in costumes and wear masks on Purim, heightening our awareness of the reality that God is constantly enclothing and masking Himself within the natural and within the mundane. When we internalize this, we come to see that really it's not a question of the miraculous versus the natural, but a question of the revealed miracle versus the hidden miracle.”
He goes on to tell about a young student, Eric, who took home a kitten from his volunteer job at an animal shelter. It’s a beautiful read, a true Mysterious Ways story.
So today, no matter what your faith, take some time to reflect on the hidden miracles in your life. Maybe you’ll find something you didn’t know was there before.