Archive | March, 2009

Seek out the Miracles

10 Mar

When it comes to Purim, one who reads through the story as recorded in the Book of Esther should begin to wonder, “exactly where is the miracle?”

The story is dramatic and entertaining.  It has its good guys and its bad guys, its starring roles and supporting actors.  There is suspense, there is irony and and even some humor.

But, in theory, there is no apparent “miracle.”

On the surface, Haman (read: serious Jew-hater) uses his power and position to have the Jews destroyed.  Esther(read: brave Jewess) risks her life in the Persian court to save her people. Haman makes some serious tactical errors, angers the king (read: persuadable super-power), and is killed.

But the story is not over with the death of enemy number-one; the nation fasts, the nation prays, the nation goes to war….and they are victorious in battle.  A lot of Jew-haters in Shushan and all around are killed – we are not told how many Jews lost their lives in these battles…

And so, where was the miracle?

In a recently published book (in Hebrew) called Chayei Shana, Rabbi Adin Steinsalz points out the missing-miracle in the Megillah.  In earlier times, God intervened in supernatural ways, performing what one might call second-order miracles.  For instance, parting the sea, delivering manna to the people during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness of Sinai, the heavenly fires that consumed the worshipers of Baal in the time of Elijah,etc.  However, he points out that none of these miracles turned the nation into followers of Torah, into the faithful nation that our destiny demanded of us.

However, ironic as this might seem, as time moved on and God began interacting with us only in terms of first-order miracles- that is, miracles that unfold in the natural course of things – we became a more faithful, loyal nation. As Rabbi Steinsalz writes:

The implementation of miracles of the natural order did not cease after the time of Mordechai and Esther, nor in the time of Mattityahu and his sons, but has continued throughout the generations. In our days, essentially God says to us: “I no longer want to present you with miracles that every simpleton and child can look at and exclaim- ‘Look! It’s a Miracle!’ – From now on you will experience miracles that you need to think hard about, and to study them.”

It became apparent that these type of miracles demand greater participation on our part. Simply said, the “קיימו וקבלו” (the observance and acceptance of the Purim celebration) of the Jews in the days of Mordechai is still with us til this day, while the influence of the ” השם הוא האלוקים” (of the times of Elijah), was only temporary.

The miracle of Purim is found by making a close reading of the story,  and then, taking a leap of faith. The miracle is there only because we read it into the story.

In our daily prayers, we thank God for “miracles that are with us every day.”  There too we refer to the miracles of a first-order type, the kind that are with us at all times, that we take for granted, until they are, God forbid,  taken away from us, until something unexpected happens, and then we find ourselves praying for the return of the normal everyday things.

So, where is the miracle in the Purim story?  What makes it a miracle?

Not only are our lives governed by natural laws set in place by God that govern our physical existence, such as the laws of gravity, the laws of the harvest, or the biological laws that govern conception of human life, one might suggest that we are also subject to the social-political laws of human nature, these too set in motion by God from the time of our creation.

These social-political laws, corrective measures built into the very fabric of human existence, are no less divine in their nature, and those who suffer the consequences of these laws or ultimately reap the benefits of these laws have also experienced the consequences of divine providence.  When corrupt tyrants are toppled, when evil dynasties crumble, it may be the doings of human beings, but their actions are part of the order of nature – the way that God set up the world that all of us inhabit.  It is no mere coincidence that “evil doesn’t pay,” or that “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

The miraculous benevolent world, created and set in motion by God, continues to demand patterns of goodness and grace;the miraculous nature of the world that God created will settle for no less.  God’s ongoing presence in our lives guarantees that ultimately all must move in the direction of good.

The miracle of Purim is there because we choose to open our eyes and hearts to the miraculous nature of our lives. The establishment of the State of Israel as well as the reunification of Jerusalem are miraculous in the exact same way as Purim; because we choose to study the facts and draw our own conclusions….this is what makes the celebration of Purim so important to us – it reminds us that the miracles of Jewish history are in the eyes of the beholder – it is up to us all to seek them out, declare them as miracles, and celebrate them with great joy in each and every generation.

Tthe rabbis teach (Midrash Mishlei 9:2)that in the time of the Messiah, all holidays will be annulled except for Purim; if you ask me, the Midrash is teaching that we will only realize that the Messianic era has come if we are willing to read into the circumstances as we did back in Shushan. When we are ready to do that, then the supernatural events of the past will no longer stoke the fires of our faith; we will be transported into a new era where our eyes will be open to what is happening around us and we will readily recognize the hand of God in every turn of events – Mordechai’s clarity of vision will be with us not only at this time, as we celebrate Purim, but each and every day of our lives.