Jewish World Review Feb. 26, 2002 / 14 Adar, 5762

The promise of Purim

By Yaffa Ganz -- JEWISH tradition teaches that in the future "days to come," all of the holidays will be canceled except for Purim, the most free-wheeling, noisy, disorderly, feast and drink filled day in the Jewish year. Why should a rousing, boisterous, "minor," one-day, rabbinically ordained holiday that doesn't even rate the saying of the thanksgiving prayer, Hallel, be with us forever, while major, Divinely ordained holidays such as Passover, Shavuos and Sukkos will not? It always seemed strange, but who am I to argue with well established Jewish tradition? However these past, difficult, eighteen months in the Holy Land have given me an inkling of an answer.

When everything seems dark; when solutions to a chaotic, dangerous world with political, military, economic and spiritual problems, are nowhere in sight; when we are seemingly in such dire need of practical, realistic guidelines (even though they rarely set the world aright) - in these threatening, depressing, what-can-we-do days, Purim is just what the doctor ordered.

2358 years ago, at the time of the Purim story, the Jewish people in Persia/ Babylonia were doing well. It was the end of seventy years of Exile, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Four years earlier, Zerubavel, accompanied by the prophet Nechemia and the sage Mordechai, had led the return of the Jewish People to the Land of israel where they had begun the rebuilding of the Second Temple. But the vast majority of the Jews chose to remain in Exile. Life was good in Persia, and they were moving up the ladder. Their social standing was so high that they had even been invited to the king's banquet at the Persian "White House" in the capital Shushan! The Babylonian scene was definitely promising.

Then ... Venahafoch Hu - in the blink of a "Divine eye", everything changed.

Haman came to power and fear and despair filled the hearts of the Jews. G-d's Face was nistar, hidden (reminiscent of the name Esther). Only at their darkest, most dangerous hour, on the verge of complete physical destruction, did the Jews do their own "about-face", returning to their Eternal King rather than to the fickle Achashverosh. And by a seemingly natural process, the entire configuration once again "turned around" and the darkness was dispelled by the light of the morning star, the harbinger of Redemption. [Esther/Astarte is the Persian name for Venus]. Seemingly natural process? Yes, but so unlikely, so unexpected, so impolitic, that no one could have forseen such dramatic developments.

It all happened because of one stubborn, "impractical" Jew who refused to submit to the Persian authorities (thereby angering his Jewish brethern for seemingly putting them in danger!).

It happened because of one woman, a stranger to court intrigues, with no political power, no allies, no experience, who saw, understood and took action. She commanded her people to fast and pray, and then put all thoughts of her own personal welfare behind her. Her arena was not in public, not in the spotlight on center stage, but behind the closed doors of the palace, in the privacy of her chambers.

And, adds the Medrash, salvation came because of the simple, unsophisticated prayers of the Jewish children of Shushan who hadn't yet learned that prayers were considered ineffective in the world of real politics.

There are no miraculous occurances, no obvious "miracles" in the story of Purim. It reads like a story of court intrigue, a fight for political power. King, queen, ministers, spies; human nature and affairs reign supreme. The name of G-d is not mentioned anywhere in the Megillah, but He is always there, guiding, deciding, waiting behind the scenes for us to act before He flips a switch and Venahafoch hu - everything changes! Cast, story line, denouement - all is realigned. The Medrash states that wherever the word Hamelech - the King - is mentioned in the Purim story, the reference is only ostensibly to Achashverosh; the real King is G-d. Today we are once again inundated with lies and provocations and endless hatred; we are again confronted on all sides with serious, life threatening situations, none of which seems to have a solution. How can we possibly, effectively, protect and secure our country, our Land, our lives and the lives of our children? Are there any practical answers to any of these questions? No one seems to know.

Then the 14th of Adar comes along and provides not only hope, but a precedent. Venahafoch hu - nothing is static. Things change, turning over and around k'heref ayin - in the blink, so to speak, of G-d's eye. Just as Mordechai and Esther did, we too are responsible for seeking solutions and implementing whatever practical measures we possibly can for our safety and welfare. But after all is said and done, as then, so now. G-d is in charge.

Not long ago, in our own lifetime, we saw another "natural" Purim miracle in contemporary Persia. The frightening Gulf War ended a day before Purim. Hundreds of missiles fell on the Holy Land, missing their targets time and time again. The inhabitants of Israel emerged from their sealed security rooms, ripped off miles of masking tape from their windows and doors and put away their horrendous gas masks. No one had known how that war would end, and once it was over, one could explain everything away as a configuration of perfectly natural events. Or one could see the manifest Venahafoch Hu Hand of G-d in history.

Like Esther and the children in Shushan, we continue to believe that our prayers are heard and that G-d is guiding history. Abraham was promised that his children would be "above" the stars; we are not captive to practical politics, to erring human plans, to governments, be they in ancient or contemporary Persia, in Washington or even in Jerusalem. We are directly responsible to the King of Kings and it is our actions which will determine our fate. Such is the message and promise of Purim, the reason Purim will forever remain on the Jewish calendar and in the Jewish heart.

The ultimate Venahafoch Hu will depend on us.

JWR contributor Yaffa Ganz is the award-winning author of more than forty Jewish juvenile titles including the two-volume teen history "Sand and Stars --- A Jewish Journey Through Time" and the popular Savta Simcha Series. You may contact her by clicking here.


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Doing Nothing
War and Peace ...
Buttons, anyone?
When visiting 'momma' is dangerous
The Price of Life
Light a candle
Sukkos paradise
True confessions
School Daze
Jewish summers --- a time lag

© 2001, Yaffa Ganz