This week, we will be celebrating Purim (Wednesday night and Thursday day). As part of that celebration, we will be reading Megillas Esther.
The rabbis asked, ‘Where in the written Torah do we find an allusion to the story of Esther?’ You see everything in the world, all the history and events, are coded in the written Torah. Therefore, there has to be an allusion to Esther somewhere in the verses. And the rabbis answer, in Devarim (Deuteronomy), Chapter 31, verse 18, where G-d says “I will definitely conceal (hester astir) My face on that day.” [referring to the day on which the Jews will sin.] There are times in history that we are told there is “hester panim” a time when, so to speak, G-d’s face is hidden. That usually happens when we turn from G-d. My father, a Holocaust survivor, always told us kids, “When people say where was G-d during the Holocaust, you should answer them, exactly where the people wanted him to be, distant. You see before the Holocaust, when it came to keeping Mitzvos, we didn’t want G-d looking into our lives, supervising our lives, checking in to see what we were doing. We wanted a distant G-d. So G-d showed us distance.” That is the way of G-d – He lets us set the parameters of our relationship with Him. You want Him close, fine. You want G-d out of your bedroom and out of your kitchen, He distances himself. Here at this junction in history, when the Jews thought they were never going back to Israel, they took a step away from G-d, going to celebrate and assimilate. At that point, G-d, as promised in Deuteronomy, decided “hester astir” to hide and allow danger to threaten the Jews.
In Megillas Esther, there is that “hester”, G-d’s name is not mentioned once in the Megillah. It was the greatness of the Jews that they recognized through the hidden curtain, through the gauzy coverings of history and events, there was the clear outline of a Divine Creator who orchestrated every event. That was their repentance, to pierce the mysterious, frightening things happening to them and say, “there is naught other than G-d.”
That leads into the custom of wearing masks and costumes on Purim, to remind us that nothing is what it seems at first glance. A bandit comes into your house, his face puckered up with meanness. Then you remove his mask and reveal your friend behind the mask. Once you’ve figured out who is hiding behind the mask, the hiding party usually won’t replace the mask, for you won’t be fooled any longer.
G-d is masked in seeming happenstance, in history, in nature, in life’s circumstances. It is up to us to ascertain that all the manifestations of these events are G-d driven, to, so to speak, SEE G-d behind every scene. And when we do that, G-d doesn’t have to conceal Himself any longer, for we recognize Him and want the relationship with Him.
That’s it for the warm-up of the subject, folks. The Megillah synopsis to follow, G-d willing, tomorrow.
There is an amazing book written by Rabbi Akiva Tatz called World Mask that delves into this concept at length and with brilliance. To hear him lecture about this, go to the website www.simpletoremember.com and click on Rabbi Tatz’s lectures.