The story of Purim is told in the Book of Esther. Chronologically, this is the last book in history that was incorporated into the Tanach.
Why did the Bible end at that point in time? It is because the Tanach is concerned with the era when the Shechina, the holy presence of G-d, was openly revealed in the world, the era when the prophets spoke. Evidently the Tanach and the era of prophecy could not end without giving us some guidance about how to behave in a world where the Holy One, Blessed be He, is not openly revealed. It was necessary to show that the Master of the Universe continues to supervise the world even when He is hidden, even in a world where He cannot be seen.
And that is why the story of the Book of Esther is told – a story where the name of the Holy One, Blessed be He, does not even appear once. The entire story is one of concealed activity. It almost appears to be a huge stage production, where everybody fulfills some role while his or her true identity is concealed.
The central character in this story is Esther herself. “Esther did not reveal her nationality and her birthplace, because Mordecai told her not to tell” [Esther 2:10]. The hidden Jews in Spain, the Marranos, felt very close to Esther, who played the role of a Jewess concealing her true identity. The Fast of Esther was therefore very important to the Jews of North Africa, who were descendents of those who were exiled from Spain.
The entire concept of Jewish theater began from Purim plays, a world where nothing is revealed and everything takes place behind masks. This is also seen in the nice custom, mainly practiced by the children of wearing costumes on Purim. Superficially, it seems that the other nations of the world have similar customs, but in our case we maintain the concepts of purity and holiness, and we are careful not to degenerate into wild parties and forbidden activity.
However, the idea of putting on a disguise is significant. The word for disguise in Hebrew is from the root for searching, A person who wears a disguise is also involved in a search for his or her own true identity.
What is the main element that saved us on Purim? It was the fact that we successfully opposed the concept of the evil one, Haman, who said, “There is one nation that is dispersed and divided among the nations” [3:8]. He claimed that since we are separated and dispersed we would not have the strength to stand up against him. He forgot that in the same sentence he also said “there is one nation.” Internally, we are united even though we are dispersed.
In the exile the nation of Israel was able to invent a form of living known as the community. We recommend to our Noahide friends all over the world that they also organize into communities. This can provide strength and help individuals withstand external influences.
We commemorate our opposition to the claim that we are dispersed by observing the command to “send portions of food to each other and to give gifts to poor people” [9:22]. By this means we increase our solidarity and the mutual love we have for each other. It thus helps us meet any challenges.
According to the halacha, on Purim we give charity to anybody who stretches out his or her hand, without carefully investigating whether the recipient deserves it or not. We can be sure that the Master of the Universe also “observes the mitzvot,” and if we ask for anything on Purim He will surely give it to us. The Holy One, Blessed be He, will also give “gifts to the poor” without checking the recipients very closely.
Thus, Purim is a holiday that gives us an opportunity to strengthen the unity among us and also to ask the Master of the Universe for things that we do not usually request from Him all year round – to make exceptional requests. On this day we break down normal restrictions. The joy is almost unlimited, it expands and envelopes everything. At other times, it is very hard to achieve such a level of joy.
In this world we are used to seeing many troubles. But we know that behind all of the troubles in the world there lies the perfect world of the future. We can sample this future world on Purim – through the festivities, drinking wine, reading the Megillah, sending gifts to our friends, and giving charity to the poor.
Have a happy holiday.
Rav Oury Cherki, Jerusalem