Fundamental to Jewish belief is recognition of Divine control of the
There are no accidents. Everything literally everything is so
because the Almighty makes it so. The concept of hashgachah
peratis (specific supervision) refers to the control of the Divine
Being over everything that is and everything that occurs. In fact, this
belief is the first of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith: "I
firmly believe that the Creator, Blessed is His name, is the Creator and
Ruler of all created beings, and that He alone has made, does make, and
ever will make all things."
Divine control, however, functions in two patterns, teva, nature,
and neis, miracle.
"Nature" means that the Almighty moves everything within an identifiable
and predictable order; we describe as "natural" those events that occur
by Divine control within this order. "Miracle" means "unnatural"
something which, while occurring through Divine control, does not fall
within any identifiable or predictable order. Miracles, too, function in
two patterns: in one, the neis niglah, Divine control is
revealed, and the miracle is recognized as such; in the other, the
neis nistar, Divine control is hidden, and the miracle is made to
appear as a natural occurrence.
The miracle of Chanukah was
through the first pattern; the miracle of Purim, through the second.
While the miracle of Chanukah was obvious a one-day supply of oil
burned for eight days the miracle of Purim was not. The entire Book
of Esther reveals nothing miraculous: a pleasant story, of almost
fairy-tale outline, telling of a wicked man's downfall, and the triumph
of the hero and heroine.
The Rabbis of the Talmud discuss this, reporting that the Book of
Esther, which does not mention even once the name of the Almighty, is a
case of a miracle camouflaged to appear as a natural occurrence.
NATURE OF HIDDENNESS
One might wonder whether any natural-appearing event is really a
camouflaged miracle. If so, is one required to make a holiday for every
joyful event, since one cannot always know whether, like Purim, it is a
miracle in disguise?
Perhaps so were it not for our Rabbis who revealed the miraculous
nature of the Purim events, thereby teaching faith in the Almighty, to
recognize that He is truly directing the circumstances surrounding
individual and collective lives along patterns destined for their
benefit, though one may not at the time be aware of it just as
Mordechai, Esther, and the other Jews of the time were initially not
aware of the miraculous nature of the "natural-appearing'' events of
their time. Now that Purim has been identified as a miracle, it is to be
treated as such. Many a disguised miracle may be taking place at any
time, but we do not treat them as such since they have not been
The unique standing of Purim as a hidden miracle later revealed, is
identified in the Talmud (Chullin 139b): "Where is Esther indicated
in the Torah? In the verse, For I will surely hide (astir) my face
Rather than merely developing a play on words (Esther/astir) the
Rabbis of the Talmud were teaching "Where is it indicated in the Torah
that there can be a miracle in disguise? in the verse wherein the
Almighty tells Moses that He will always guide the Jews through all the
tribulations that may befall them except that His hand may not be
revealed in the process; that He will never forsake His children, though
they may not always be conscious of His presence; that 'Hester
Panim,' literally 'Hidden Face,' is also a process of Divine
In fact, Sforno comments on that verse: "Wherever the Jews may
be, My Divine Presence will be hidden within them." Truly, how can the
continued existence of the Jewish people throughout these milliennia of
galus (exile) and persecution be explained, other than to
recognize the Divine Presence within Jewry, even if it be hidden from
As is well known the miracle of Purim took place outside the Holy Land,
in contrast to the miracle of Chanukah, which occurred in Jerusalem.
Purim is the reassurance to the Jewish People that they will never
succumb, even amid the worst offensives by the nations of the world
on their own terrain.
And while Purim was not the only time that the Almighty helped His
children through difficulties by natural-appearing methods, Purim is the
only such event whose identity was revealed to give Jews an annual
reassurance of the Divine Presence behind the Hester Panim (the
That is why the Purim celebration goes beyond celebrating the miracle of
Mordechai and Esther, just as Mordechai and Esther willed to the Jewish
People that it go beyond that. It must enter the realm of year-round
service to the Almighty, to seek greater grasp and deeper understanding
of faith in the Almighty.
Purim occurs exactly one month before Passover . The
miracles of Passover are recounted for us: in the Torah, in the Haggadah,
and every day in our prayers when we speak of remembrance of the Exodus
from Egypt. The miracles of Passover occurred not only before the eyes of
the Jews but before the eyes of all the world, who recognized the
miracles as such: "The peoples have heard, they tremble: pangs have
taken hold on the inhabitants of Philistia. Then were the chiefs of Edom
frightened; the Mighty men of Moab, trembling takes hold upon them; all
the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away. Terror and dread falls upon
them; by the greatness of Your arm they are as still as a stone" (Exodus
15:14-16). The miracle of Purim might have slipped by as another of
many events where good triumphed over evil, had not the secret been
revealed. The reason to remind us of that important aspect of our
faith: the "Hidden Face" of the Almighty, which functions not only on
Purim, but eternally.
UNIQUE, YET ORDINARY
Small wonder, then, that the fulfillment of Purim is through acts which
appear ordinary, but when understood within the above context become
extraordinary. Consider, first, the reading of the Book of Esther:
Every Sabbath and Yom Tov morning, and every fast day
following the reading of the Torah at the afternoon Minchah prayers, a selection from
the Prophets is read with blessings. Every Tishah B'Av evening,
the entire Book of Lammentations is read without the preface of a
blessing. Thus, the essential practice of reading Scripture publicly is
not unique to Purim, but Purim is the only time one must both
read Scripture (other than the Pentateuch) from a parchment scroll and
recite blessings over the reading.
Then, comes a second mitzvah (religious duty) of Purim, mishlo'ach manos,
sending food packages to a friend; and a third mitzvah,
matanos la'evyonim, gifts to the poor; and a fourth
mitzvah, seudas Purim, the festive meal. None of these is
unique as are blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, handling the
lulav and esrog on Succos, or eating marror (bitter herbs) and
charoses (the food used to signify the mortar) on Passover. There are other times during the year when we
read from the Scriptures; when we send gifts to friends and to the poor;
and when we enjoy a hearty meal.
But then, if Purim is a celebration of a miracle disguised as a natural
event, then the fulfillment of Purim should also appear as something
natural, although in reality it is not. One must be aware, while
listening to the reading of the Book of Esther, sending food packages
to friends, giving gifts to the poor, or enjoying a festive meal, that
all may appear "natural" but in reality are not. Instead, one must be
mindful of loftier meanings. It is simpler to be reminded of faith when
doing something exotic; it is more difficult to be so reminded when we
are doing something ordinary. But then, once reminded, the ordinary
In a very special way then, Purim is an annual reminder of the very
special way the Almighty takes care of His children: He is always there,
even when they do not realize it.