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Behind the Purim Masks, Divine Intent Guides the Way

March 20, 2008 By:
Jon Erlbaum
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In the fifth-century BCE, the Jews of the Persian Empire were weakening in their commitment to Judaism. To make matters worse, the evil Haman decided he wanted to destroy the entire Jewish people -- all in one bloody day! Consulting the stars, Haman calculated that the month of Adar would be the most favorable time to attempt his all-in-one-day "final solution."

Why? Because Adar corresponds to the astrological sign of the fish (Pisces), and fish tend to swallow their prey all at once.

And so Haman set out to fulfill his devious mission.

But just when he could almost taste success, a series of seeming "coincidences" completely foiled his plot. Even more strikingly, Haman him was the one who guaranteed his own downfall. By the time the dust settled, every action he had undertaken to destroy the Jews ended up saving them and destroying him (culminating with the "digging of his own grave" -- i.e., construction of his own gallows -- as the gallows he builds for Mordechai's execution are used to hang him instead).

Let's appreciate just how fantastic this irony is: All along, Haman was oblivious to the fact that every step he takes toward Jewish destruction is actually depositing another brick in the wall of Jewish salvation. By threatening the existence of the Jews, he indirectly triggered a renewal in their commitment to Jewish values -- reversing the tide of rampant Jewish assimilation and destroying himself in the process. As Torah sources remind us, the same fish that swallow their prey are themselves swallowed as well.

The question is: Who was guiding these events toward a just and positive outcome? God? His name is not mentioned even once in the Megillah of Esther. Moreover, the Megillah contains no miraculous spectacles. That means no splitting seas, which is disappointing for those of us fishing for underwater connections.

Nevertheless, as Rabbi David Aaron has taught, God is present as the concealed choreographer behind every scene of the Purim saga, giving us a glimpse into how He guides most of human history: He challenges humanity by granting evil the short-term advantage, but quietly ensures the eventual triumph of righteousness and the downfall of evil. And God doesn't need to accomplish this in the manner of a superhero, defeating enemies through a grueling bout pulled off in a split decision.

God doesn't have to fight enemies at all! Yes, we are given the genuine freedom to oppose the Almighty's will, which certainly shapes our destinies as individuals. But any evil we choose can never thwart the master plan, because the instant we choose an evil action, it is effortlessly incorporated it into a stepping stone toward a positive result.

The masks we wear for Purim remind us that God too operates behind a "mask" known as "nature." Just as there is a dynamic, hidden world beneath the surface of the sea, there is a vibrant, hidden world beyond the veil of nature.

Even the Pisces sign of the Purim month is connected to our theme: It depicts two fish swimming in opposite directions, representing the options of moving toward evil or righteousness, like Haman and Mordechai. And yet, behind the curtain -- whether we choose to swim with or against the current of our Creator -- God is guiding whatever turns we take toward the divine vision of a unified redemption.

This is why on Purim, we aim to drink until we can't perceive the difference between "Blessed Mordechai" and "Cursed Haman." It's deeper than the desire to simply "drink like a fish!" We drink to blur the distinction between these arch-rivals because from the standpoint of the master plan, there really isn't a difference between Mordechai's direct contribution to the divine agenda and Haman's indirect contribution to it.

In this way, the Purim story reveals an eternal secret for all humanity: that while our actions are tremendously significant in determining how humanity will fare prior to the climax of history, our Creator is gently guiding the world toward an eventual, guaranteed, glorious destiny -- beneath the surface and behind the scenes.

May our awareness of this joyous, hidden reality transport us to the experience of a truly joyful Purim!

Jon Erlbaum is the executive director of The Chevra.

 

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