In the Mishnah, we learn that one who reads the Megillah backwards on Purim has not fulfilled his/her obligation (Megillah 17a:9). While the simple understanding of this mishnah is that one must read the scriptural text from beginning to end and not read it out of order, the Baal Shem Tov provided a more mystic interpretation. He taught that anyone who reads the Purim story as a historical event is not fulfilling his/her obligation because s/he is merely seeing the story “backwards.” To understand the story properly, we must recognize its present relevance and realize that the events of the Megillah are no more historical than they are contemporary.
On a metaphoric and spiritual level, this means that the themes of the Purim story are as applicable today as they were two and a half millennia ago. Reading the Megillah in proper order is thus an attempt to identify the aspects in our lives that correlate to the events in Shushan, and to apply the Megillah’s profound lessons to our current reality.
Sadly, the relevance of the Megillah to our present circumstances is not merely allegorical. The socio-political situation for Jews in the Megillah is all too similar to the environment in which Jews find ourselves today. We may have hoped that the type of virulent antisemitism that characterized Haman and his contemporaries would have been a thing of history by now. But unfortunately, this is not the case. With the declaration of a National Day of Hate in America just a week ago, the murder of over a dozen Israeli civilians throughout the past couple months, and a significant uptick in antisemitic incidents around the globe over the past several years, the saga of Haman and violent Jew hatred can certainly not be relegated to history. We read the Megillah today as we have read it throughout the millennia: as a prescient reminder that there will always be those who try to extinguish God’s light, and that it is our eternal duty to counter those forces in order to make the light radiate.
The mystics teach that beyond Purim, whenever we revisit a date on the calendar, we are not merely remembering what happened on this day in the past, but we are actually re-experiencing the same energy and the same divine influence that occurred at that time. Holidays and holy days in Torah are not simply celebrations of historic occasions, they are channels through which the spiritual power of those moments are made manifest and accessible again. This is the inner meaning of the verse from the Megillah:
:וְהַיָּמִים הָאֵלֶּה נִזְכָּרִים וְנַעֲשִׂים בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר
V’hayamim ha’eileh nizkarim v’naasim b’chol dor vador.
And these days shall be remembered and done throughout every generation.
(Megillas Esther 9:28)
We can easily understand what it means that these days will be “remembered” in every generation. But what is the implication of the addition of the word “v’naasim/and done” in this verse? It teaches us that on the holiday of Purim, we are not merely commemorating the salvation that happened in Shushan 2400 years ago, but rather that every year on the fourteenth of the month of Adar, G-d is “doing” it again. In other words, He is sharing this miraculous power of deliverance with us now just as He did then. Therefore our task in celebrating Purim is to make ourselves sensitive to the particular divine efflux that the holiday represents, and to bring it down into our consciousness and reality.
What is the particular energy that Purim represents? The answer is alluded to in the name of book that we read on the holiday, Megillas Esther. “מגלה/Megillah” means scroll, but it also means “reveals.” Esther is the name of the story’s protagonist, but ner name derives from the root סתר, which means “hidden.” Megillas Esther is thus the “Scroll of Esther,” but it can also be translated as “to reveal the hidden.” The theme of the entire book of Esther, as well as the underlying theme and energy of the holiday of Purim, is the revelation of Hashem’s hidden presence and providence in every iota of our existence.
In order to fulfill the directive that “these days shall be (both) remembered AND done,” our mission on Purim is to not only remind ourselves of Hashem’s omnipresence, but to go out into the world and fill it within divine light through charity and acts lovingkindness so that the Godliness that is hidden within all of us will be materialized and “done.” This is how we counter Haman and the forces of darkness that persist throughout the ages. We celebrate the invisible hand of God that conducts and orchestrates every aspect of our lives, and we extend our own hands to assist those in need and embrace those around us.
May we all have a very happy Purim, and may we soon experience the day when we can all perceive God’s immanence and when Haman and antisemitism are indeed a relic of the history books.