Nearly 2,400 years ago, the Jewish people, exiled from the Land of Israel, their holy Temple destroyed, were decreed to be killed in the Persian Empire. They triumphed over evil and lived to tell the tale, the story we know as Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther, named for the brave heroine who risked her life to save the Jewish people.
Esther, along with the cousin who raised her, the brilliant Mordechai, helped the Jews turn the tables against those who desired to do them harm, as it says, “On the very day the Jews’ enemies expected to dominate them, it was turned around so that the Jews gained dominance over their enemies.” (Esther 9:1).
So we have the holiday of Purim, which means lots, as in the lottery the evil Haman used to choose the date of the Jewish people’s annihilation, and on this holiday, the Book of Esther is chanted.
Before everything turned upside down, salvation for the Jewish people had already been foreordained. How was that so?
The Talmud (books of Jewish legal discussions and commentary dating back over 1500 years) in Megillah on page 13b asks, “It says in Esther (3:1), ‘After these events…’ After what? Raba said: After God created a healing for the blow. For Resh Lakish has said: The Holy One blessed is He, does not smite Israel unless He has created for them a healing beforehand, as it says in Hosea (7:1), ‘When I have healed Israel, then is the iniquity of Ephraim uncovered.’ (Healing is mentioned before the malady).”
So we have the doctrine that God creates the cure before the malady. We know the malady, the wicked Haman and his decree, but what were those events that were the healing, the remedy, the foreordained salvation?
It all started with King Achashverosh’s party when the king requested that Queen Vashti appear, “…to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was of very attractive appearance.” (Esther 1:11). The queen refused and was deposed, creating the opening that Esther filled.
Because Esther lived in the palace, Mordechai would sit at the palace gate, and there he overheard two royal officers plotting to kill the king. Mordechai told Esther who relayed that information to the king in Mordechai’s name. “The matter was investigated and found to be true, the two (would-be assassins) were hung, and the incident was recorded in the king’s chronicles.” (Ibid., 2:23). That story would be read to the king years later on a sleepless night and assist in the demise of Haman.
But wait. No one can doubt that these incredible turns of events, this overall miracle, did not have God’s involvement, yet God’s name is not even mentioned in the Megillah! How can that be? Some say that because the Book of Esther would become part of the empire’s chronicles, its handlers would not afford it the kind of respect due a part of the Tanach, the Jewish biblical canon, therefore God’s name is left out.
But there is another reason. There are two kinds of miracles performed by God, those that are obvious and revealed, when God changes the laws of nature, e.g., the miracles done at the exodus from Egypt, and those miracles that are hidden, not easily discernible, where the laws of nature are not changed, as with the story in Esther.
The miracle of Purim was concealed to teach us that God is there even if He is not named, and He is on our side to save us from calamity even if we don’t witness any supernatural act in support.
Now God may not be mentioned in Esther, but the Sages tell us there are many hints of God’s presence throughout the Megillah. The Midrash (a collection of ancient biblical commentaries) states that when the book says, “the King,” and not specifically, “King Achashverosh,” the text is referring to the “King of Kings,” God.
There is one other book in the Tanach within which God is not mentioned. That is King Solomon’s Shir Hashirim, Song of Songs, like the Book of Esther, a part of the Writings section of the Jewish biblical canon. This work of Solomon is chanted on Pesach (Passover), which falls one month after Purim.
On the surface, Song of Songs is an elaborate, even at times explicit, love story. Is it possible that such a book is included as part of the holy Tanach? But there is no mystery here. The Sages tell us that Solomon’s narrative is an allegory, an eight-chapter metaphor about the love between God and Israel.
As happens with metaphors, a subject of an analogy is not mentioned, and I believe that using God’s name in the narrative would have diminished the very purposeful composition of the book, the desire that we delve deeply into the mystery of the words to reveal the special relationship between God and His people.
While God may not be mentioned, as He is not in the Book of Esther, He is there. The Talmud in Shavuot 35b says, each mention of Solomon in Song of Songs is sacred (meaning it refers to God), because peace belongs to God and Solomon’s name was derived from the Hebrew word for peace, Shalom.
The Book of Esther and the Song of Songs, both devoid of God’s name, are read on holidays of redemption – Purim when the Jews were saved from certain death, and Pesach, when the Jews were freed from slavery. One could even say that a season of redemption begins with the holiday of Purim and lasts through Pesach.
In a discussion in the Talmud in Megillah 6b as to when Purim is to be observed should there be a leap year (as is this year) when there are two months of Adar, the month wherein lies Purim, Rabban Gamliel held we celebrate the holiday within the second Adar, “to bring one period of redemption (Purim) close to another (Pesach).”
Also, just as Esther spent years inside a king’s palace before her destiny was revealed and fulfilled, so did Moshe (Moses) spend time in a pharaoh’s palace before he was chosen to lead his people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, Israel. The two consequent holidays of Purim and Pesach teach us that when we think all may be lost, things may turn around completely, because God has already created the remedy.
After the wicked Haman was executed, the Jews were allowed to defend themselves and they won great victories. And so, Mordechai decreed we annually commemorate those days, “… when sorrow turned into gladness and mourning into festivity.” (Esther 9:22).
May this season of redemption be one of gladness and festivity for you and yours.