(with thanks to Rabbi David Aaron)
Are you ready for Purim? Wednesday night we will read the Megillah and twirl our gragers as we boo the wicked Haman who sought to exterminate the Jews of the ancient Persian Empire—essentially all the Jews in the world. It’ll be all fun and games, but there’s a deeper meaning behind the story in M’gilat Esteyr.
M’gila, means “scroll,” but its root is gilui (revelation). Esther is the hero of the story and her name is related to the Hebrew hesteyr, which means “hiddenness.” So the real meaning of Megillat Esteyr, the Scroll of Esther, is the “revelation of hiddenness.” What’s in hiding? Gd and His Oneness. Gd is not even mentioned once in the Megillah.
On Purim we’re commanded to get so drunk we can’t tell the difference between the phrases, Baruch Mordechai (Blessed be Mordechai—the leader of the Jews) and, Arur Haman (Cursed be Haman—who tried to kill the Jews). Is it a coincidence that both these phrases have the same gematria numerical value: 502?
But how could “cursed Haman” be equal to “blessed Mordechai?” Good and the evil are opposites—certainly not of equal value. Let me explain. Kabbalah teaches that we exist in the mind of Gd. Everything is contained within Gd. When a writer creates a character in his mind, for example, the character is part of him—one with him—but it is not him. We and everything in the world are like the character in the mind of the writer in the sense that we exist in the mind of Gd. Unlike a writer’s characters, we are independent—although many writers will tell you that their characters sometimes take on a mind of their own and go to places the writer had never before imagined. Gd has created us to be independent. We are not Gd, but on some level we are a part of Gd and Gd is a part of us—one with Gd.
Therefore, when Judaism asserts that Gd is one, it doesn’t just mean that Gd is not 2. The Oneness of Gd on a deeper level means that Gd is one with everything—even opposites are included in Gd’s Oneness. Although our logical minds cannot fully grasp this paradox, we get a real taste of it on Purim because the story illustrates that even the evil person who denies Gd and rebels against His Will, ironically serves to reveal Gd’s truth and—to the evil person’s own dismay—actually ends up bringing blessing to the world.
The Oneness of Gd is such that He created us with free will. Although we can choose to go against His Will, mysteriously, we cannot oppose Gd’s Will. We are free to disobey Gd, but we can never undermine His plan. Our very disobedience—like Haman’s in the Purim story—will in the end serve Gd’s plan.
The Purim story begins with the king’s party, in celebration of the 70-year anniversary of the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The prominent Jews of Persia are invited and they show up drinking and carousing with the Persian hoi polloi at an event where the sacred vessels stolen from the Holy Temple are being used with non-kosher wine and food and desecrated. Fully aware of this conflict of interest, the Jews find it more important to rub elbows with Persia’s royalty than to stand loyal to Gd and Torah—a typical sign of Jewish assimilation.
As the story continues, we learn that Haman, the king’s prime minister, seeks to destroy the Jewish people. The irony of the story is that what Haman does to destroy the Jews ends up destroying him and saving them. Hence, Haman builds gallows to hang Mordechai and these are the very gallows on which he himself is hanged. By threatening the Jews’ existence, Haman initiates a renewal of their commitment to Gd and Torah as the Jews seek Gd’s help—thus reversing the tide of assimilation that threatened Jewish survival. This is why we eat the sweet treat Hamantashen (Yiddish), or in Hebrew, Ozney Haman, literally, “Haman’s ears.” That bitter, destructive man turned out to be a source of sweetness and nourishment for Jewish survival.
On Purim, we celebrate that everything in the world goes according to Gd’s plan—whether we see it or not. Gd’s plan disguises itself and plays out even through the evil people of the world. But, on Purim, we actually see the truth behind Gd’s mask and that’s why we dress up in disguises and party over this mysterious and marvelous paradox.
In the Purim story there are no obvious miraculous Divine interventions as we see in the Passover story—no supernatural plagues and no splitting of any seas. But the hidden miracle of Purim is actually greater than the miracles of Passover because the ultimate revelation of Gd’s Oneness happens when He doesn’t have to openly interfere. The greatest manifestation of Gd’s truth is when we understand that Gd doesn’t have to fight the villain. No matter what choices the villain makes, he completely plays into and fulfills Gd’s plan.
You may be facing situations in your life where you’re worried—really worried—about how things are going to turn out, how you could accomplish your goals and dreams. That’s OK because Gd has it figured out. Remember this well and life will be much easier for you. You don’t write the script of your life, you just play your part! (Repeat) The question is not whether we’re going to play our parts, but how we will play our parts—consciously and willingly or resisting all the way. We can choose to work for Gd’s plan of growth, love and making a difference in the world, or we can choose to work against it. But Gd’s Will…will be done!
We see it in the Purim story. Esther—who, unbeknownst to all, is Jewish—has by a strange set of circumstances been forced to marry the king of Persia. Is this just coincidence? Soon after, Haman the prime minister begins to execute his plot to destroy the Jewish people. Upon learning of his plan, Mordechai, who is Esther’s uncle, says to her, “Who knows, perhaps Gd has orchestrated things in this very manner so that you could be queen and be in a position to save your people.”
Esther is not convinced. She tells Mordechai, “You know the rules of the palace. If I go to the king without being invited, he could have me killed!”
To that Mordechai says something very bizarre: “If you don't do this, Esther, the salvation of the Jews will come from someplace else.”
What kind of argument is that? Everyone knows that if you want to get someone to do something…what’s the most effective method? Guilt! Mordechai should have said to Esther, “If you don’t do this, the Jewish people will be destroyed. This will be the end of Jewish history and it will be your fault.” Instead he says, “If you don’t do it, the Jews will be saved anyway, but you’ll lose out on the starring role—the role you were destined to play.”
Mordechai was teaching Esther a great secret: In terms of Gd’s great plan for the world, it doesn’t make a difference what you do—it will happen one way or the other. But in terms of your own life, it makes all the difference in the world. Do you want to actively, consciously participate in Gd’s plan or not? If you don’t sign on, it will still happen. But you’ll lose out. We can choose the role we want to play in our lives. Do we play the role Gd has laid out for us in His Torah—a life of holiness, kindness and love—making a difference in this world. Or do we lead a self-centered, narcissistic life? M’gilat Ester implores us to choose wisely. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis