February 2018

Of the Book

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By Daniel Bortz

The night of February 28 and the day of March 1 is the 2,374 celebration of the holiday of Purim, one of the happiest days of the Jewish year. We hear the Megillah story, have a feast, give gifts to the poor and food packages to friends, dress up in costumes, and eat Hamantaschen cookies. Like any Jewish holiday, these Mitzvot and customs are not only cute ritual, they contain deeply powerful symbolism.

When the prophetess Queen Esther decided to write down the events leading up to the holiday of Purim, she chose to leave out a very important aspect of the story: G-d. The secret meaning here is connected to the timing of the holiday. Purim happened during exile, one of the last holidays ever recorded. A Divine presence was beginning to become more hidden from Jewish minds and hearts. By excluding G-d’s name – His revealed presence in the world – from her Megillah, Esther was teaching us that even in the darkest times of our lives where events seem to have no deeper purpose, that there is a loving, guiding presence orchestrating it all for our ultimate benefit.

Hamantaschen may get its name from the three-cornered hat of the wicked Haman, but it has a deeper meaning. It’s a cookie with a hard outer section and a sweet filling partially hidden inside. The message of Purim is that every event that may seem hard and bitter on the surface – has an inner sweet reason behind it.

Costumes are fun for all ages (I never dress up, maybe this is the year?). They can hide the identity of the wearers who are able to move around and act without being called out by name and identified, just like the Divine influence on events during Purim.

The Mystics point out a powerful lesson from the hidden identity of costumes: What happens when a friend recognizes – with certainty – the person wearing the mask? There’s no more need to hide their identity. The game’s up. When one truly senses a Divine force behind the natural events we see, why should God hide His presence anymore to them?

This explains the numerous miraculous events performed for the righteous, those who have reached a level of consciousness where they sense without a doubt that there is a Divine presence at work. For these select people – and each of us according to our level – there is less and less of a need for concealment. A bending of nature will not come as a shock for one on that level of awareness. The only reason for this painful game of hide and go seek that God plays is in order to give us the free choice to choose between good and bad on our own without influence.

As we celebrate Purim and hear the Megillah story, let’s try to look at all of our Jewish history, and the history of our own lives – from the incredibly high to the desperately low points and back again, as one very long Megillah scroll. From near destruction to complete redemption, our personal stories and the story of our people will end where they are meant to: “For the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor” (Esther 8:16).

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