By Rabbi-Cantor Cheri Weiss
Did you know that the name of God does not appear anywhere in the Book of Esther, the Megillah that is chanted on Purim? Despite the dire position in which the Shushan Jews find themselves when Haman puts his evil plan in place to kill them, there is no prostration to God, no begging for God’s salvation and no mention of the Covenant that binds the Jews to God.
Despite all of our present-day celebratory grogger waiving, amusing Purim spiels and funny costumes, underneath all the fun and reverie, Purim is a serious story about the potential annihilation of the Jewish people. However, there is no entreaty to God by Mordechai or Esther that the Jews be spared. Before approaching her husband, King Achashverosh, to plead with him to save her people, Queen Esther fasts for three days and asks the Jews to do the same. This would have been the perfect time to beseech God for help, yet there is no mention of prayer to God at all.
Esther is fairly bawdy book with its drunken partying and the king’s insistence that the previous Queen Vashti get naked to entertain his friends. This seems to suggest the book is a comedy, a comical farce with exaggerated and archetypal stereotypes: a buffoonish king, beautiful heroine, wise uncle and evil villain. Coincidences, absurd situations, and misunderstandings. So, it’s possible that the name of God was expunged before Esther was included in the Canon.
If we don’t actually see the name of God in Esther, can we feel God’s presence? The vast number of coincidences seems to imply that God is working behind the scenes to save the Jews. If, for example, Mordechai hadn’t convinced Esther to go to Queen Tryouts, if Esther hadn’t been so beautiful, if the King hadn’t fallen in love with her, if evil Haman had succeeded in his revenge plot, if the King hadn’t declared a celebration for Mordechai, if Mordechai hadn’t been in the right place to overhear a plot to overthrow the king… if if if!
Yet while we may find the spirit of God in Esther, that still does not explain why God is not specifically mentioned.
Perhaps it was the author’s intention to have us look for God ourselves.
There is a lesson here: The absence of God’s name may imply that there are times when it is just not obvious that God is with us. In our times of need, we may wait for God’s explicit answer to our prayers yet hear nothing. It is then that we must find the courage and strength with which God has blessed us to keep moving forward. When we feel abandoned, we must rely on our faith and believe that God is with us, which, in turn, can provide us with the strength that we need to survive. Queen Esther had to act on faith and find her own inner courage, and the reader is encouraged to do the same and believe in God’s Divine presence no matter how challenging that may be.
The next time you celebrate the wonderful traditions of Purim: waiving your grogger, admiring the costumes, listening to the beautiful chanting, take a few moments and think about where God is — not only in the Book of Esther but in your own life. The search for God is a dilemma we all face. In that respect, the Book of Esther is and always has been a timeless story about that quest.