Jonathan Muskat
Jonathan Muskat

The Active Faith of Purim

Perhaps the most pivotal moment in the Megillah is the fateful conversation between Esther and Mordechai when the latter tells the former to go to the king and plead on behalf of the Jews.  Esther’s response seems to be a reasonable one.  She hasn’t been called to the king for some time now and coming to the king without permission could lead to certain death.  Wouldn’t it better to simply wait until she is called to the king?  There’s a strong likelihood that she may be put to death just as the previous queen was put to death for disobeying orders.  What motivates Mordechai to tell her “mi yodaya im l’et kazot hi’ga’at la’malchut” – who knows if this is precisely why you became queen?  How is Mordechai certain that Esther will succeed?

On one level, Mordechai strategically realizes that now is the time to act.  Why did Achashverosh forbid anyone from coming into the inner chamber unannounced?  Achashevrosh’s life was threatened by Bigtan and Teresh, so Achashverosh appoints Haman as his deputy and orders that everyone should bow down to him.  Nobody other than the king has achieved this much power.  Then when Haman asks to kill the Jews, not only does the king grant his request, but he gives Haman his ring.  Haman slowly is becoming the real power behind the throne.  Meanwhile, Achashverosh is becoming more and more isolated.  Haman is becoming more and more the face of the kingdom and Achashverosh is slowly becoming more and more of a figurehead.  Mordechai realizes this and that is why he insists that she must act now or else Haman will soon have so much power that she will be unable to convince the king to kill Haman.  Additionally, suggests the Malbim, the king never intended that the decree about not coming to his throne room unannounced should apply to Esther and maybe Mordechai believed this.  Perhaps Esther coming to Achashverosh unannounced and putting her life on the line might startle him into realizing that she has an urgent request which he would take more seriously than if she requests a meeting.  It was all about strategy.

But maybe it was more than strategy.  Ever since Esther becomes queen, Mordechai is asking himself why she was selected.  Perhaps Mordechai is searching for a sign.  He must be thinking to himself that there must be a reason why of all the women chosen, Esther is chosen.  Finally, five years after Esther becomes queen, Mordechai sees the sign.  Once the decree against the Jews is passed, Mordechai understands that this is the reason why Esther was selected to become queen, to save the Jews.  Once Mordechai finds this sign, he truly believes that everything will turn out okay and he forces the issue with Esther to go to the king immediately, perhaps so that the decree can be overturned before Haman gains too much power.  Once Mordechai sees the sign, he has faith and that faith empowers him to act swiftly and decisively.

And maybe the story of Purim teaches us something about faith.  We may tend to think that we are obligated to have faith in God and to remain faithful to God, to do the best we can and pray to God that everything will be okay.  And maybe that was what Esther was initially willing to do.  She would pray to God and hope and have faith that the evil decree would somehow be overturned.  But Mordechai tells Esther that that’s not how faith works.  Faith is not simply a frame of mind, a passive attitude waiting to see what God has in store for us.  Faith is active.  It’s about commitment to our people and our values and it’s about acting on that commitment.

For almost a year now, we have suffered through this pandemic.  During this time, I have witnessed passive faith, the kind of passive faith that expresses itself through prayer alone without any change in behavior.  However, I also have seen so many people answer the call, “mi yodaya im l’et kazot higa’at la’malchut” – who knows if this is why we were chosen to be here at this moment in 2020-2021 during this pandemic?  Maybe we were chosen specifically to be alive at this time in this place so that we can be a source of calm to our friends and family.  Maybe we were chosen specifically to be alive at this time in this place so that we can support the homebound and those in need of support.  It’s been a year of COVID already and it’s been an exhausting year, but during this Purim, let us reflect on our faith, not simply the passive faith of praying for the end of this pandemic, but the active faith that we expressed during this past year following in the beautiful tradition of Esther the heroine of the Purim story.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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