Purim as G-d's Jigsaw Puzzle

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review March 20, 2000 /14 Adar II, 5760

Purim as G-d's
Jigsaw Puzzle

By Rabbi Nosson Scherman

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE HISTORY of the Jewish people up to the Babylonian Exile is replete with miracles. In virtually every generation, a Jew could reinforce his belief through miracles which he had seen himself or tales of such miracles from first person witnesses. A visit to the Holy Temple was, in itself, an opportunity to see the active "hand" of G-d [Avos 5:8]. True, Jewish belief is not based on miracles; belief must feed on deeper roots. Miracles can be rationalized, explained away or misinterpreted [Mishneh Torah; Yesode Hatorah 8]. But there is more. Reliance on miracles, even undue emphasis on miracles, can actually dilute belief because it can make one forget that the "hand" of G-d is as present in what, for lack of a better name, we refer to as "nature" as it was at the Splitting of the Yam Suf (Red Sea) when the Jews left Egypt. It is not simply a pretty turn of phrase when we thank G-d in Shemona Esrai (the Silent Devotional Prayer) for "the miracles that are done with us every day."

Econophone Life exists because G-d makes it exist constantly; without His life-giving activity, the universe would cease to exist.

To the extent that early history of the Jews is a chain of miracles and Divine intervention, it is itself a veiled picture of G-d. The very emphasis on G-d's miraculous activity can make one forget that His guidance is everywhere. The Hebrew word for the world, "Olam" comes from a root that means "hidden," for, in this world, the existence of G-d is hidden. People may pray three times a day and observe mitzvos scrupulously, yet they are convinced that their business, professional, or military success is based on hard work, education, capital investment, superior strength, better planning, etc., etc., etc. Isn't G-d at least an equal partner in their success! Of course, but He is a Silent and unseen partner, so silent and unseen that His very participation can be questioned.

This is the purpose of "Olam" -- world-hiddenness -- to test man to find truth in the murkiness. The non-believer will always find bases for doubt and blasphemy. The Mabul (Deluge) took place in the year 1656 after creation, so the builders of the tower of Babel had theory: every 1656 years, the foundations of the universe tremble causing a flood; we are safe until then. Pharaoh explained away the plagues in a similar way. Belshazzar arrived at a computation on which to base his blasphemy. And so down through the ages. G-d does not drill faith into our minds and hearts; He places us in an "Olam" -- world of hiddenness and expects us to find our way to the truth because He has given us enough tools -- just enough, barely enough -- to find the truth if we really want to find it.

Trakdata The period of openly revealed miracles ended with Esther and Mordechai. A new emphasis was added to Jewish history. We had to find G-d's "hand" not in the splitting sea or heavenly fire, but in everyday events.

Haman was enraged and sought vengeance against the entire Jewish people. Why? The reason was obvious: Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman. Quixotic Mordechai refused to acknowledge the King's viceroy with the obeisance that was common protocol in the Orient, the same obeisance that Jacob paid Esau without a royal edict ordering him to do so.

The real reason for the sword over Jewish heads was that the Jews allowed themselves to enjoy the feast of Ahasuerus despite Mordechai's insistence that they refrain from going. But the feast was in the third year of Ahasuerus' reign and the decree of extermination was in the twelfth year. How could there be a connection? Simple logic cried out that Mordechai was wrong!

Then the pieces of G-d's jigsaw puzzle began coming together. Suddenly widely separate links began to move together to form a chain and widely separated chains joined to become the anchor upon which Jewish survival was secured. And simple logic turned out to be wrong; quixotic Mordochai was right.

One set of links: Ahasuerus' feast would become the undoing of the Jews later on, but first it resulted in the execution of Vashti which led to the coronation of Esther. Because Esther was Queen, she was in a position to approach the King to save her people and lull Haman into complacency by inviting him to her private banquet.

Another set of links: Bigsan and Teresh plotted to kill Ahasuerus. Because Esther secured a royal promotion for Mordechai he was positioned to overhear them and report the scheme to Esther. She told the King of Mordechai's loyalty. It was inscribed in the royal chronicle there to lay forgotten until the fateful night when G-d disturbed the sleep of the King.

Another set of links: The King promoted Haman and everyone was required to bow to the newly risen Agagite. Mordechai refused to bow. Haman, assured of his power and influence -- even with the Queen! -- built a gallows and came to seek royal permission to hang Mordechai just when Ahasuerus learned that it was Mordechai who had once saved his life.

When the appropriate climactic time arrived, G-d's pieces came together and formed the destruction of Haman and most of Amalek, and salvation for the Jews.

G -d's Name does not appear in the Megillah -- the only one of the twenty-four sacred books where such a phenomenon occurs. True, commentators show how the word "HaMelech" -- the King -- is always a reference to G-d, King of the Universe and His name appears occasionally in acrostic form. Nevertheless, these hidden appearances of His name are still in marked contrast to the rest of Tanach, the complete Bible.

Precisely. The miracle of Purim happened at the end of the Babylonian Exile, a time when G-d was behind myriad veils of concealment, a time when Jews were asking with poignant, tragic sincerity whether they owed Him more allegiance than a wife spurned or a slave set free. And the miracle happened in Elam, a spiritually forlorn province, almost devoid of Torah.

Yet it was at that time and in that place that "random" links began coming together and forming chains of salvation, chains eternally binding the Jews to the earlier days when G-d was everywhere. The miracle of Purim showed them that G-d was still everywhere, would always be everywhere, even when His presence could be divined only in the actions of this king or that, in acrostics of random events, in bafflements of history that, to the believing eye, spell out --- "I am the first and I am the last; and beside me there is no G-d [Isaiah 44:6]".

It was Esther who asked the Sages to establish Purim as a festival for all generations. The Sages refused on the grounds that, to do so, would inspire the jealousy and enmity of non-Jews. To which she responded that the story was already inscribed in the royal annals of Persia and Media.

To proclaim a festival and inscribe the tale in a sacred book would indicate that the chain of coincidental events leading up to the salvation was an open, obvious miracle. This, the Sages said, could not be done. The Jews were still under the dominion of the Persian Empire and its rulers would not respond kindly to a Jewish claim that G-dly intervention had been employed to best the highest officials of the empire.

Esther replied that such fears were groundless. The story is already inscribed in the royal annals, she countered. It is universally recognized that a miracle took place. There are simply too many coincidences and they fit together too well. Even the Persians and Medes recognized that G-d had taken a "hand" -- albeit a gloved, concealed "hand" -- in the events. The link, came together too well for it to be anything else [Resisei Laylah Chapter 56].

Of the ten (Sefiros) emanations of Kabbalah, the last is kingship. The king, as ruler of the nation, represents the public manifestation of authority and government. He may have ministers and advisers whose counsel and machinations help determine the course of events, but it is the king who is the only, ultimate symbol of government. Nowadays, for example, a chief of state is higher in the order of protocol than a head of government. A prime minister may wield effective power, but he does so in the name of the state; and the state is represented by the person of the king or president. The state is embodied in him.

In the Heavenly order, kingship represents the final stage of G-d's will, His revelation on earth. It is the culmination of a lengthy chain of events resulting in His revelation.

Nowhere more than in Megillas Esther is this revealed. In the Megillah, G-d's name does not appear, but when all was done, His presence was recognized everywhere. Every piece fit, His jigsaw puzzle was perfect. And Esther could truthfully tell the Sages that everyone knew it. Everyone realized that G-d rules the affairs of man -- directly as He had in Egypt, the desert, or the Land of Israel; or from the concealment of nature and coincidence as He had in Shushan. Because He does not appear in the Megillah, He is there more meaningfully than in any other sacred book. It is in the Megillah that we see kingship, the final emanation of G-d's infinite wisdom and power as it is manifested in the apparently mundane affairs of this planet. (ibid]

This may be the deeper reason why G-d is alluded to in the Megillah by the word "HaMelech" -- The King. It is in the guise of temporal, natural rule of earth that His essence is represented most truly.

No, He is not concealed. He only seems to be. It is for us to find Him in every event in our lives. Megillas Esther shows us how if we but read its directions.

Rabbi Nosson Scherman, one of contemporary Jewry's most important thinkers, is the author of countless works of contemporary Judaica, including The Megillah. He heads the Brooklyn-based publishing firm, Mesorah Publications, Ltd. To comment click here.


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