Thursday, March 17, 2011

Purim Is Chazal Telling Us The Future Of Judaism

If one looks at Megilas Esther they would see that there is no mention of G-D. Also, there are no recognizable miracles talked about in this story. In fact, the only point to this story is to show a series of events that lead to the Jewish people being saved by themselves. The story of Esther is one where, because of human actions, the Jews were saved. Esther intervened and because of her intervention that gave the Jews the strength to defend themselves from their enemies. However, had it not been for Achashveirosh throwing a party in his third year of kingship, had it not been for his getting drunk at that party and had it not been for his wife, Vashti, refusing to dance naked, Esther would have never been in a position to intervene.

It is amazing that the Megillah does not mention G-D at all. Even in the one verse where you would think Mordecahi is about to say how even if Esther does not intervene G-D will find a way to save the Jews, he avoids mentioning G-D (Megillas Esther 4:14):
יד  כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת--רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ; וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ--אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת.14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father's house will perish; and who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?'
In a way this reminds me of the debate between evolution with G-D and evolution without G-D. There are two ways to look at evolution, either there is a G-D deciding the course of evolution or there is just randomness. No one can prove one way or the other, it is a matter of faith and belief, not evidence. The same holds true for the story of Purim, there could be a G-D guiding the Jewish people's future, or it could just be randomness.

It could have been completely random that Vashti was replaced with Esther and that put her in a position to save the Jews when she did or it could have been the hand of G-D. There were no open miracles to bring as evidence to prove G-D was involved.

It seems to me that the Purim story was incorporated into the Tanach so that we could have a guiding light for our future as a people. It used to be that Jews saw miracles, talked to prophets and did not have issues with faith or belief in G-D. However, once miracles and prophets disappeared, what would allow us to still connect to and believe in G-D? Only through the belief and understanding that G-D is present in natural events as well as the supernatural events could the Jewish religion survive. In the time of the temple people thought G-D was in the temple. That attitude is what led to the temple's ultimate destruction. "G-D is in the temple, but my idols are right here!"

It is for these reasons that I believe this idea of getting drunk on Purim comes about. As the Gemara in Megillah (7b) says:
 אמ ר  רב א
 מ יחי י ב  איניש לבםומי בפוריא עד  דלא ידע
 בין אר ו ר  המן לב ר ו ך  מר ד כ י  

Rava says, Men are obligated to drink (alcohol) to the point that they don't know the difference between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai. 

We need to realize that G-D is behind the scenes protecting us, even when we do not take care of ourselves. That is the significance of getting drunk, it takes away our own will to protect ourselves and make sure our lives work out as planned. Therefore, Rava says that we should get drunk, in order to realize that G-D works behind the scenes, within nature, to make sure everything works out for us. (to see how G-D might work behind the scenes in this world see this post)

However, this idea of getting drunk to the point that one does not know what they are doing is proven to be bad in the Gemara (ibid):
 רבה ורבי זירא
 עב ד ו  סע ו ד ת  פורים בהדי הד ד י  איבםום
 קם רבה שחטיה לרבי זירא למחר בעי
 רחמי  ואחייה לשנה אמ ר  ליה ניתי מר  ונעביד
 סע ו ד ת  פורים בהדי  הד ד י  אמ ר  ליה לא בכ ל
 שע ת א  וש ע ת א  מתרחיש ניסא
Rabbah and R. Zera joined together in a Purim feast. They became mellow, and Rabbah arose and

cut R. Zera's throat. On the next day he prayed on his behalf and revived him. Next year he said,
Will your honour come and we will have the Purim feast together. He replied: A miracle does not
take place on every occasion. (Soncino translation)

This apparently shows that one should not get drunk to the point that one can not control themselves. The point is valid, that G-D is working behind the scenes, but the practical application is not safe and leaves out the second message found in the Megillah.

The second important point, which I think most people miss, is the importance of our own actions. True, G-D is watching over us, but the Megillah is a story that shows how Esther needed to act, if she didn't then what would have happened? The Jewish people still needed to fight off their enemies, if they didn't then what would have happened? Yes, G-D is working behind the scenes, but if we do not play our role in the grand scheme of things then we will be lost and someone else will take over our part.

The story of Purim and the holiday of Purim are Chazal's way of telling us that even though open miracles do not occur anymore that does not mean G-D is not watching. Every year we must be reminded that G-D's actions are hidden, but that doesn't mean they are not there. This is why, I think, the Megillah intentionally avoids mentioning G-D at all.

The future of Judaism, as we have seen, is G-D working behind the scenes. The Jewish people have survived for so long simply because G-D is working behind the scenes to protect us. How many times have "Purim" stories happened that we are not even aware of? How many times have people tried to destroy us, as a people, but their plans were foiled in, seemingly, natural ways?

We must celebrate Purim, but don't let these messages be left out of our Purim celebrations.


S. said...

Interesting idea. It reminds me of Richard Elliott Friedman, who in his book The Disappearance of God, subtitled A Divine Mystery, argues that this is exactly what God does in the Bible, from beginning to end: he starts of front and center and fades from view by the end.

E-Man said...

When you say Bible I am guessing you are referring to all of Tanach, right? That makes sense to me.

I don't know if I have ever stated this outright in one of my posts, but I think that idea is accurate. G-D needs to let His followers know He is there and that He is part of their lives, but there is no need to continuously reveal His presence. This is what G-D does, He let's us know He is here, and gives us the Torah as the guide. Then He slowly weans us off the need for revelations and prophecy which allows the world to work in its natural order without His constant intervention.

I think the practicing Jew's life in the 21st century has a lot more to do with G-D and the religion than the Jew of the 10-7th century BCE. For the simple reason that G-D was much more tangible, His presence was felt in the Ohel Moed, in the Mishkan and in the Temple, but what about outside those places? Now, G-D seems to be much more of an all encompassing idea.