Purim: The Question And The Answer 

The Narrative

We will pause our Beginning series this week, because Purim is approaching and we will talk about book of Esther today. Yes, there is a wonderful narrative here   that we all love to read and to hear – but there is so much more to this book! I believe that Esther is one of the most important—and one of the most prophetic— books in the history of our people. We discuss this further on, but first – the story.

I suppose, you all know this narrative: expelled from the Holy Land, many Jews settled in the different towns of the Persian Empire. Some lived in the capital of Persia, Shushan. The king of the Persian Empire, the emperor Ahasuerus, was looking for a new wife and thus the beautiful and pure Esther, Haddasah, an orphan raised by her cousin, a godly Jewish man named Mordechai, became a queen of this world empire. Obedient to Mordechai’s command, she did not reveal her background to anyone.

As the story goes, Mordechai refused to bow his head in honor of Haman, who was Prime Minister to the Emperor Ahasuerus. Infuriated, Haman pays off the King to decree a genocide of all Jews: “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day.”[1] The day selected by Haman’s pur (lottery) was the 13th of Adar.

We then have an amazing conversation between Mordechai and Queen Esther: Mordechai tells her about Haman’s plot and the King’s decree, and asks her to save her people. She is full of doubts at first, as she can’t go to the Emperor without his invitation, and he speaks these well-known words to her:

“Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.  For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”[2]

Mordechai rallied the Jews to fasting and prayer, Esther also fasted and prayed for three days, and as a result, the miracle happened and the evil was reversed.  Esther was able to convince Ahasuerus to hang Haman and allow the Jews to defend themselves. On the 13th of Adar, battles were fought throughout the entire empire between the Jews and those who sought to destroy them. The following day, Adar 14, became a day of celebration of the Jewish victory.  Since the battle in Shushan went on for two days, the celebration there was held on Adar 15. Thus, these two days were instituted as the festival of Purim – Adar 15 in walled cities and Adar 14 in unwalled towns.[3]

The Revelation of the Hidden   

Do you know that the book of Esther is one of the only two books in the Tanakh which doesn’t contain the name of God? The other one is Song of Solomon, where we read about love, but the book of Esther is very different: we read this story, where God is not mentioned at all, and feel indeed as if there is no God of Israel in this frightening report of the first planned genocide against Jewish people.[4] So, why was this book included in the canon in the first place?

 

Here we come to a point of great importance. The Book of Esther was included in the canon because, in fact, it is all about God. The word “God” doesn’t appear openly in the Book because oftentimes God remains hidden in our lives—until we recognize Him and His handwriting in the circumstances and events that unfold. Yes, it does sometimes happen that God’s salvation comes as a miracle, defying natural laws (like in the book of Daniel for instance). More often than not, however, divine salvation is “disguised” in ordinary events – “hidden” in what can be perceived as a series of “coincidences” – like what happens here in the book of Esther. Even the name of this book – Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther) – is very profound and reflects this amazing dynamic between hidden and revealed: the name Esther (אסתר) is related to the word “nistar”: “hidden”, “concealed”; while the word Megillah is related to the word “megaleh”: “reveal”. So the words “Megillat Esther” can literally be translated as “the Revelation of the Concealed” – and this is the message of this amazing book! The evil here is defeated through the series of events orchestrated by God, and that’s how God reveals Himself to His people!

For Such a Time as This

I’d like to tell you another amazing story. In previous years, I have related several Purim stories (Purimfest 1946, Purim 1953 in Soviet Russia), and this story also happened around Purim, although not exactly on the date. In the eyes of the Jewish sages, however, even the very beginning of the month of Adar heralds joy and victory: “When we enter Adar, we increase in joy,” says Talmud,[5] and the story I want to share today, happened right after the beginning of Adar II in 1948 (5708).

You know of course, that 1948 is the year of the birth of the state of Israel. On May 14, 1948 David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence – and just a few minutes later, United States President Harry S. Truman recognized the new State of Israel. Most people do know that, however, do you know the amazing  story behind this, “for such a time as this”, story?

I doubt many of you have heard of Eddie Jacobson, a Jewish guy from New York.  When Eddie was a child, his parents moved to Kansas City and there he met a boy who became his close friend. Their friendship grew when they were both in the Army during the First World War, and they started a business together after the war was over. When the recession hit, they had to close the business, and the partnership ended. Eddie Jacobson became a travelling salesman and eventually opened his own clothing store, while his friend, Harry Truman, went into politics and eventually became president of the United States. Throughout all this, the two remained friends.

At the beginning of 1948, while the Jews of the world desperately sought the support of America, the State Department advised the president not to support the establishment of the State of Israel. Truman was under tremendous pressure from all sides. At some point he said, “I don’t want to hear about Palestine anymore.” He refused to meet with Chaim Weizmann, president of the Zionist Organization. It was then that the Jewish organizations reached out to the childhood friend of the President – Eddie Jacobson.

On March 13, 1948 (just after Adar began), Jacobson went unannounced (just like Esther) to see Truman in the Oval Office. Thus, God’s plan was set in motion: five days later Truman met secretly with Weizmann in the Oval Office and agreed to support the establishment of the State of Israel. Immediately after the State was declared, Harry Truman signed the proclamation.

Twenty years later, Truman wrote: “One of the proudest moments of my life occurred at 6:12 p.m. on Friday, May 14, 1948, when I was able to announce recognition of the new State of Israel by the government of the United States. I remain particularly gratified by the role I was fortunate to play in the birth of Israel as, in the immortal words of the Balfour Declaration, “a national home for the Jewish people”.[6]

I think, in this story we clearly see the same message that the Book of Esther conveys; to the sober and hard question that this Book challenges us with: what do we do when God hides His face?  -both this story and the Book itself give a profound answer: we have to remember always, that God has a hidden, secret plan for such a time as this – and to trust Him to reveal Himself through that plan!

 

 

 

My dear readers! In honor of this amazing Festival celebrating God’s victory, I would like to offer you a very special gift: my book “The One Who Sees Me Lives”, tells the story of God’s victory in the lives of two Jewish children during the Holocaust. Just for these several days before Purim, you can get this book  (the Kindle edition) from Amazon for free!

CHAG PURIM SAMEACH!

 

 

 

 

[1] Esther 2:13

 

[2] Esther 4:13-15

[3] Today, the only city in which Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth of Adar is Jerusalem.

[4] It would be the second one, if we count the attempts of Pharaoh in Exodus.

[5] Taanit 29a

[6] For those interested, you can read here the fuller version of this amazing story:

https://reformjudaism.org/blog/2018/04/03/what-did-eddie-jacobson-have-do-founding-state-israel

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (4 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Tiong Ling

    Hi Julie, thank you for sending me your weekly sharing. I learned a lot from the perspective of the original Hebrew Bible text. I have a question regarding Daniel. When Daniel’s three friends had been thrown into the furnace of fire, where was Daniel? Why Daniel wasn’t with them? Thanks

  2. David Meyer

    Chag Purim Sameach

  3. Nick

    One person looks at nature and sees miracles. Another person looks at miracles and just sees nature. The Purim story teaches much. Thank you Julia for this teaching/post. And thank you for your book gift!!!
    Nick

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Nick, very well said indeed. I hope the book will be a blessing to you!