Purim has always been one of the most fascinating of our holidays. I was blown away when I learned that not only is the story not found in the Torah, but it is the only book in the Hebrew Bible that does not include G-d in it. How could a holiday that is so widely celebrated, replete with special foods, dress, spiels, carnivals, songs, and drinking (lots and lots of drinking), not have a religious meaning whatsoever? As a child, I could not understand it.
However, as I have gotten older, and began teaching about the holiday (including sharing the real story about how King Ahashverosh “chose” his queen), I understood better why the holiday continues to be relevant even today. The lessons of the story are universal and timeless – being proud of who you are, standing up for what is right (even when faced with potential danger), and the actions of one person can make a difference.
Tomorrow night, the Jewish world will once again celebrate good’s triumph over evil. The timing of this year’s celebration, while coincidental, does raise a series of interesting comparisons to what we are seeing in the world today.
During this holiday we are commanded to not only hear the story but to do everything within our power to blot out the evil person’s name whenever it is heard. This intentional act of calling out and drawing attention to the evil in the story is a powerful reminder to us, especially this year. It is a reminder that even though there is evil in the world, there are things each of us can do to try and block the evil from affecting others. And, like Esther, we need to understand the role we can play in helping end the wickedness of others.
I get it. In most instances, we may feel that since we do not have the same unique opportunity as Esther had because of her position. However, as our tradition teaches us in the Talmud, specifically in Pirkei Avot 2:16 (Sayings of our Fathers), “He (Rabbi Tarfon) used to say: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.” In essence, even though we may not be able to solve the problem we still need to work to help make it happen.
As you celebrate Purim this week, I encourage you to keep this idea in mind.