Killing our perception of God

Hamentashen and a megillah for Purim
Credit: Tovfla/ Getty Images

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously declared that God is dead, and we have killed Him. Made redundant by science and humanism, Nietzsche believed that God was no longer necessary to provide people with meaning. Nietzsche’s perception stands in direct contradiction to our profound sense of faith but adapting the notion of “killing God” can in fact reveal a new depth to the Purim story.

A famous element that sets the Book of Esther apart from other biblical texts is the glaring omission of God’s name. The Megilla is scrupulous in naming every single character that played an important role, so why not mention God? Perhaps the author of the Megilla deliberately left God out of the narrative to allow us to kill a perception of God and make room for a new one.

When God offered the Torah to the Jewish people, they famously declared (Ex. 24:7) na’aseh v’nishma (we will do and we will listen). The Talmud (Yevamot 46b; Keritot 9a) explains that through this experience, the Jewish people converted en masse and emerged like newborn children (Yevamot 62a). This label that the Talmud gives to those that accepted the Torah as children is supported by their seemingly blind in trust their Parent without knowing all the details. Centuries later, however, we are taught that the Jews re-received the Torah at Purim time from a new perspective (Shabbat 88a) – in what way?

The Rosh HaShana prayers famously centre around the coronation of The King. This title “The King” is used in reference to God in many other places, leading the sages to claim that when the term “The King”, is mentioned in the Megilla, it is also referring to God. Perhaps it was through “killing” this infantile view of God and burying His explicit name through the use of HaMelech that allowed us to receive the Torah anew.

Children can have an immature outlook on their parents and teachers and often view God as a Parental figure in a simplistic way. As we grow older, our understanding of the world, and how it works, becomes more sophisticated. At the same time, however, we often retain a less complex view of God, as we don’t always challenge ourselves to examine this area of our lives.

While transitions between life stages can be a slow process, childhood must end for full adulthood to be born, and so, to truly grow, we must also fundamentally alter our preconceived notions of God. As we develop, we must delve into more facets of the Creator with greater depth. What one learns of God as a five-year-old is but one dimension and if God remains one-dimensional, so does one’s approach.

An element of Purim is about moving beyond the God of our collective childhood, allowing us to realise that God is the King, who is distant and distinct, but at the same time, approachable and present. The latter needs to be uncovered, in the same way, that any relationship requires work. This realization is what enabled the Jewish people to “re-receive” the Torah as the Talmud outlines and compels us to always deepen our relationship, seeking out God beyond His basic name each year through Purim.

As we mature over time, we need to challenge our earlier perceptions and re-examine the world and our notions of God in more sophisticated and nuanced ways. Killing God is not the answer, but killing our perceptions of Him is part of the process we need to take in improving our relationships and gaining a more profound perspective.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Benji Levy is the founding partner of Israel Impact Partners, which works with funders to accelerate the growth of the non-profits they care about. He is the former CEO of Mosaic United, a strategic partnership between the State of Israel and global Jewry. An oleh from Sydney, Australia, he previously served as the Dean of one of the largest Jewish schools in the world, Moriah College.
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