Venahafoch Hu: Between the Divine and Human role – Purim 5774

For a printable PDF click here: The Reversal in the Divine -Human relationship -Reflections on Purim

If we want to find a paradigm in Tanach for our lives as Jewish people today, we need not look any further than the book of Esther.  It has all the trappings of life in Exile: the temptations of materialism, the threat of anti-Semitism, the uncertainly of existence without a manifest God and, in parallel books of the same period, a partial return to the land[1].  It is clearly the book of our generation.

 

Esther and Chava: A parallel in responsibility:

At face value Megillat Esther is a fairytale, an easy story for a child to grasp.  The good, bad, beautiful queen and evil villain, the threat of death, the salvation of the underdog and the happily ever after.  Yet it is a book whose esoteric nature is clear throughout.

The Gemara asks where we find Esther in the Torah:

 

אסתר מן התורה מנין (דברים לא, יח) “ואנכי הסתר אסתיר פני ביום ההוא”

What is the source in the Torah for [the story of] Esther? “I will surely hide my face from you on that day.”(Deuteronomy 31:18)[2]

Megillat Esther is about things hidden, most notably, God.  Not appearing once throughout the narrative, God’s role is taken over by Man.  As opposed to the saving hand of God in the exodus from Egypt, here there is only the saving hand of Man. God’s role has been trumped by Man.  God is hidden, Man is the main actor. It is a book that asks the question of Man’s role in a world where God’s presence is hidden.

The answer begins in a fascinating parallel between two women.  One at the start of the Tanach, the other at the end.  One in the presence of a manifest God, the other in a world of hidden Divinity.  One who denies any responsibility for her actions, the other who takes ultimate responsibility for her people. They are Chava and Esther.

Chava rebel’s against God’s command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge at the start of the history of mankind.  When God asks her ‘What have you done?’, her response is to blame the serpent instead.[3]  Afraid of the uncertainty that lies ahead, she attempts to exonerate herself from any guilt.  Chava inhabits a world of absolute Divine presence, and yet God’s call to take responsibility for her actions is ignored by her.

Esther, by contrast, does not hear God walking in the Garden. She sees no God, hears no Voice and feels no Presence. Her world is a world of absolute uncertainty reflected in Mordechai’s statement:

 

כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת–רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ; וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ--אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת

For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish; and who knows whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?[4]

 

Yet when she is called upon by Mordechai to play a part in the narrative of her people, she is afraid but complies, putting herself at risk of death.  This is a story of two women, both using free will; one when God is present and one when God is seemingly absent.  One who eats from the “Tree of Knowledge” and one who “doesn’t know”, one who gets exiled from the Garden of Eden and one who brings her people out of exile. One who has no sense of responsibility for her actions and one who takes supreme responsibility for her people.  How can it be that God’s absence, as opposed to his presence can bring out the best in Man?  To answer this question I would like to focus on Nietzsche’s notion of the death of God.

 

Nietzsche and the Death of God

In modern times, this ‘concealment  of God’ has led to the ‘God is Dead’ theory, proposed primarily by Nietzsche.  If God is dead,  as the theory goes, then all is permitted and anarchy and chaos begin to reign.  We begin to replace God with other things – for example religious fundamentalism, cults, science and technology.  Nietzsche feared quite correctly that once society accepted the ‘death of God’ theory and attempted to fill that vacuum, the consequences would be catastrophic.

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.[5]

 

In a world where God’s presence is not felt and hence there is a certain uncertainty in existence, fear begins to reign.  When there is fear, there is most often an attempt to ‘control’.  That control can come in any guise: superstition, religious fundamentalism, Kantian philosophy of self legislation, totalitarian dictatorship etc.

If none of these takes place, the alternative is a worldview based on ‘chance’. There is no Divine providence, nothing is determined, fate and chance are the dominant forces at play.  This was the philosophy of Haman and his ancestor Amalek.

The Jewish response, as defined by Rav Soloveitchik in his famous essay Fate and Destiny (in Hebrew “Kol Dodi Dofek”), is that of Covenantal Destiny. The Jewish people have never been a people of chance.  We are a people who believe in man’s ability to create his own destiny, to be free willed individuals who are not part of the inescapable forces of fate.

Rav Soloveitchik expresses it beautifully:

What is the nature of the existence of destiny? It is an active mode of existence, one wherein man confronts the environment into which he was thrown, possessed of an understanding of his uniqueness, of his special worth of his freedom, and of his ability to struggle with his external circumstances without forfeiting either his independence or his selfhood. The motto of the “I” of destiny is, “Against your will you are born and against your will you die, but you live of your own free will.” Man is born like an object, dies like an object, but possesses the ability to live like a subject, like a creator, an innovator, who can impress his own individual seal upon his life and can extricate himself from a mechanical type of existence and enter into a creative, active mode of being.

 

According to Judaism, man’s mission in this world is to turn fate into destiny- from an existence that is passive and influenced to an existence that is active and  influential; an existence of compulsion, perplexity and speechlessness to an existence full of will and initiative…Destiny bestows on a man a new status in God’s world.  It bestows on man a royal crown and he becomes God’s partner in the work of creation.[6]

 

Amalekian Philosophy of Fate in Shemot and Megillat Esther:

As opposed to an existence of Destiny, Amalek and Haman represent an existence of Fate.  The very word ‘Purim’ comes from the root ‘pur’ -lot; Haman’s worldview is that of fate, lottery, chance following the

precedent of his ancestor Amalek,[7] whose entire worldview was rooted in this mindset.

The Torah hints to this a few times:

יז זָכוֹר, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם.  יח אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל-הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ–וְאַתָּה, עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ; וְלֹא יָרֵא, אֱלֹהִים.  יט וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל-אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב, בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה-אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ–תִּמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם; לֹא, תִּשְׁכָּח

17 Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as you came forth out of Egypt; 18 How he chanced upon you by the way, and smote the hindmost of you, all that were enfeebled in your rear, when you were faint and weary; and he feared not God. 19 Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance to possess it, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.[8]

 

There is strange usage of language here when describing Amalek’s attack. The term קרך – is difficult to understand.  The Rabbis believe it denotes the notion of ‘chance’, which emanates from the term קרי, used in other contexts.  God describes a situation in Sefer Vayikra whereby the people have forgotten God, rather like Nietzsche’s ‘death of God’ description.  They have become attached to a mindset of ‘chance’.  They treat him as קרי- happenstance, and hence God’s response is to treat the people in the same manner, removing his Providence and  allowing the forces of nature and history to take control.

 

כא וְאִם-תֵּלְכוּ עִמִּי קֶרִי, וְלֹא תֹאבוּ לִשְׁמֹעַ לִי–וְיָסַפְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַכָּה, שֶׁבַע כְּחַטֹּאתֵיכֶם.  כב וְהִשְׁלַחְתִּי בָכֶם אֶת-חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, וְשִׁכְּלָה אֶתְכֶם, וְהִכְרִיתָה אֶת-בְּהֶמְתְּכֶם, וְהִמְעִיטָה אֶתְכֶם; וְנָשַׁמּוּ, דַּרְכֵיכֶם.  כג וְאִם-בְּאֵלֶּה–לֹא תִוָּסְרוּ, לִי; וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי, קֶרִי.  כד וְהָלַכְתִּי אַף-אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם, בְּקֶרִי; וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶתְכֶם גַּם-אָנִי, שֶׁבַע עַל-חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם.  כה וְהֵבֵאתִי עֲלֵיכֶם חֶרֶב, נֹקֶמֶת נְקַם-בְּרִית, וְנֶאֱסַפְתֶּם, אֶל-עָרֵיכֶם; וְשִׁלַּחְתִּי דֶבֶר בְּתוֹכְכֶם, וְנִתַּתֶּם בְּיַד-אוֹיֵב.  כו בְּשִׁבְרִי לָכֶם, מַטֵּה-לֶחֶם, וְאָפוּ עֶשֶׂר נָשִׁים לַחְמְכֶם בְּתַנּוּר אֶחָד, וְהֵשִׁיבוּ לַחְמְכֶם בַּמִּשְׁקָל; וַאֲכַלְתֶּם, וְלֹא תִשְׂבָּעוּ.  {ס}  כז וְאִם-בְּזֹאת–לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ, לִי; וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי, בְּקֶרִי. כח וְהָלַכְתִּי עִמָּכֶם, בַּחֲמַת-קֶרִי; וְיִסַּרְתִּי אֶתְכֶם אַף-אָנִי, שֶׁבַע עַל-חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם

 מ וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת-עֲו‍ֹנָם וְאֶת-עֲו‍ֹן אֲבֹתָם, בְּמַעֲלָם אֲשֶׁר מָעֲלוּ-בִי, וְאַף, אֲשֶׁר-הָלְכוּ עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי.  מא אַף-אֲנִי, אֵלֵךְ עִמָּם בְּקֶרִי, וְהֵבֵאתִי אֹתָם, בְּאֶרֶץ אֹיְבֵיהֶם; אוֹ-אָז יִכָּנַע, לְבָבָם הֶעָרֵל, וְאָז, יִרְצוּ אֶת-עֲו‍ֹנָם

21 And if ye walk contrary unto Me, and will not hearken unto Me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins. 22 And I will send the beast of the field among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your ways shall become desolate. 23 And if in spite of these things ye will not be corrected unto Me, but will walk contrary unto Me; 24 then will I also walk contrary unto you; and I will smite you, even I, seven times for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute the vengeance of the covenant; and ye shall be gathered together within your cities; and I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver your bread again by weight; and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied. {S} 27 And if ye will not for all this hearken unto Me, but walk contrary unto Me; 28 then I will walk contrary unto you in fury; and I also will chastise you seven times for your sins.

40 And they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, in their treachery which they committed against Me, and also that they have walked contrary unto Me. 41 I also will walk contrary unto them, and bring them into the land of their enemies; if then perchance their uncircumcised heart be humbled, and they then be paid the punishment of their iniquity;[9]

 

Rashi:

 ואם תלכו עמי קרי – רבותינו אמרו עראי במקרה שאינו אלא לפרקים כן תלכו עראי במצות

21. And if you treat me as happenstance. Heb. קֶרִי. Our Rabbis said that [this word means] temporary, by chance (מִקְרֶה), something that happens only sometimes. Thus, [our verse means:] “If you treat the commandments as happenstance, a temporary concern.”

 

Chizkuni:

ואם תלכו עמי קרי – לומר אינו עיניו קבוע רק מקרה הוא

This is to say this is not a matter of Providence rather just chance.

What is fascinating is that we see this exact dynamic play out in Sefer Shemot immediately preceding the first Amalekian attack on the people.  Freshly emancipated and having been exposed to an intense display of miracles, God suddenly seems to ‘disappear’. Unable to comprehend this disappearance, the people question the notion of Providence; Is God really watching and protecting us?

 וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם, מַסָּה וּמְרִיבָה:  עַל-רִיב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְעַל נַסֹּתָם אֶת-יְהוָה לֵאמֹר, הֲיֵשׁ יְהוָה בְּקִרְבֵּנוּ, אִם-אָיִן.

And the name of the place was called Massah, and Meribah, because of the striving of the children of Israel, and because they tried the LORD, saying: ‘Is the LORD among us, or not?[10]

They begin to align themselves with a worldview that denies Providence.  Hence God responds by acting in the same way by sending the archetype ‘fatalist’ – Amalek.  In the vacuum created by a hidden God, as Nietzsche correctly predicted, Man adopts a philosophy of fate or chance.  When the Jewish people begin to align themselves with this philosophy, God’s response is to treat them in a like manner.

In returning to the Purim story we see a similar pattern emerging.  The people have been exiled from their land. Prophecy has ceased temporarily and there is no direct manifestation of God.  The people have ignored the decree by Koresh to return to the land and rebuild the Temple, they have neglected their covenantal responsibility, instead preferring to remain in their comfortable lives in exile.[11]

 

Fighting the Amalekian philosophy with covenantal action:

The question we must address is how one rectifies such a situation?  How can one fight against the Amalekian philosophy of chance both within ourselves, and against the threat from outside?  How can we retain our humanity and covenantal responsibility in a world devoid of a manifest God?  How can we avoid the conclusion of Nietzsche that either man becomes a God or submits himself to the philosophy of fate?

The answer lies both in the book of Shemot and Megillat Esther.  In  Shemot, until that moment God had been fighting the battles for them against their enemies.  At that moment, God confers to the people responsibility for their own survival.  They must fight Amalek in a very natural and physical battle.  Though Moshe will stand at the top of the mountain, hands held high in order to keep the people motivated towards their Divine mission, the battle is the peoples.  In true covenantal style, the people must take responsibility for their own survival, whilst simultaneously recognising that ultimately their victory is determined by God.

So too in Megillat Esther.  Immediately following the decree of Achasheverosh, Mordechai goes out into the street and cries a great cry.  As Maimonidies elucidates in his Halakhic work, the Mishne Torah:

If they do not cry out and do not shout, but rather say ‘this thing happened to us through the natural course of events; this trouble came about by chance,’ this is the way of cruelty”, this causes them to remain attached to their evil ways and as a result will continue to have bad things happen to them.  As it says in Leviticus ‘and they walked with me ‘by chance’ and I will walk with them ‘by chance’. Meaning I will bring suffering upon them in order for them to return. And if they say ‘it is chance/fate’ I will continue to spurn upon them greater ‘chance’ suffering.[12]

Mordechai recognises the imperative for the Jewish people to see reality for what it is.  To understand that though not everything is comprehensible, we must recognise God is calling upon us to act.  In perhaps the most poignant narrative of the entire Megillah, Mordechai calls upon Esther to act on behalf of her people. The conversation between Esther and Mordechai is conducted through a third party, not face to face responding to each other, but through absence as opposed to presence.  What Mordechai says to Esther is that in a world of ,מי יודע of not knowing, one must take ultimate responsibility.  God is there, hovering in the background, but precisely because he is not present, it is man’s duty to play a larger role in the covenant.

The moment of redemption comes here. This is the moment whereby we see the absolute reversal of the divine – human relationship in Tanach.  It is here that we see Man become the active determining force as opposed to God.  It is here we see a passive God calling on man to be the actor, to be a man of destiny:

 

א וּמָרְדֳּכַי, יָדַע אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה, וַיִּקְרַע מָרְדֳּכַי אֶת-בְּגָדָיו, וַיִּלְבַּשׁ שַׂק וָאֵפֶר; וַיֵּצֵא בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר, וַיִּזְעַק זְעָקָה גְדוֹלָה וּמָרָהב וַיָּבוֹא, עַד לִפְנֵי שַׁעַר-הַמֶּלֶךְ:  כִּי אֵין לָבוֹא אֶל-שַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ, בִּלְבוּשׁ שָׂק.  ג וּבְכָל-מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה, מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דְּבַר-הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ מַגִּיעַ–אֵבֶל גָּדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים, וְצוֹם וּבְכִי וּמִסְפֵּד; שַׂק וָאֵפֶר, יֻצַּע לָרַבִּים.  ד ותבואינה (וַתָּבוֹאנָה) נַעֲרוֹת אֶסְתֵּר וְסָרִיסֶיהָ, וַיַּגִּידוּ לָהּ, וַתִּתְחַלְחַל הַמַּלְכָּה, מְאֹד; וַתִּשְׁלַח בְּגָדִים לְהַלְבִּישׁ אֶת-מָרְדֳּכַי, וּלְהָסִיר שַׂקּוֹ מֵעָלָיו–וְלֹא קִבֵּל… 

י וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר לַהֲתָךְ, וַתְּצַוֵּהוּ אֶל-מָרְדֳּכָי.  יא כָּל-עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְעַם-מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ יֹדְעִים, אֲשֶׁר כָּל-אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יָבוֹא-אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל-הֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִקָּרֵא אַחַת דָּתוֹ לְהָמִית, לְבַד מֵאֲשֶׁר יוֹשִׁיט-לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת-שַׁרְבִיט הַזָּהָב, וְחָיָה; וַאֲנִי, לֹא נִקְרֵאתִי לָבוֹא אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ–זֶה, שְׁלוֹשִׁים יוֹם.  יב וַיַּגִּידוּ לְמָרְדֳּכָי, אֵת דִּבְרֵי אֶסְתֵּר.  יג וַיֹּאמֶר מָרְדֳּכַי, לְהָשִׁיב אֶל-אֶסְתֵּר:  אַל-תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ, לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית-הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים.  יד כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת–רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ; וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ–אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּתטו וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר, לְהָשִׁיב אֶל-מָרְדֳּכָי.  טז לֵךְ כְּנוֹס אֶת-כָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשָׁן, וְצוּמוּ עָלַי וְאַל-תֹּאכְלוּ וְאַל-תִּשְׁתּוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם–גַּם-אֲנִי וְנַעֲרֹתַי, אָצוּם כֵּן; וּבְכֵן אָבוֹא אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-כַדָּת, וְכַאֲשֶׁר אָבַדְתִּי, אָבָדְתִּי.  יז וַיַּעֲבֹר, מָרְדֳּכָי; וַיַּעַשׂ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-צִוְּתָה עָלָיו אֶסְתֵּר.

1 Now when Mordecai knew all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry; 2 and he came even before the king’s gate; for none might enter within the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 3 And in every province, whithersoever the king’s commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes. 4 And Esther’s maidens and her chamberlains came and told it her; and the queen was exceedingly pained; and she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai; and to take his sackcloth from off him; but he accepted it not.

10 Then Esther spoke unto Hathach, and gave him a message unto Mordecai: 11 ‘All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law for him, that he be put to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live; but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.’ 12 And they told to Mordecai Esther’s words. 13 Then Mordecai bade them to return answer unto Esther: ‘Think not with thyself that thou shall escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. 14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish; and who knows whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?’ 15 Then Esther bade them return answer unto Mordecai: 16 ‘Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ 17 So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.[13]

Once we recognise our cognitive limitations, once we acknowledge that the essence of our existence is to act despite having no absolute knowledge and not because we have absolute knowledge,[14] once we understand that we are given free will in order to take responsibility for others and fight against evil and for justice using our Godly image, and not to imagine ourselves to be a God, then we have trumped Nietzsche’s prediction of a Godless world.

A world in which God is hidden can lead to either the greatest downfall or the greatest triumph of Man. Only by acting with absolute free will Man be a true covenantal partner with God in the world.  The Rabbi’s expressed this clearly when they said:

 

At time of Matan Torah God held the mountain over the heads of Israel and said: Either you accept [The Torah] or here will be your graves.  Raba says even so, the generation at the time of Achashverosh accepted the Torah willingly, as the pasuk says ‘They fulfilled and accepted’.  They accepted the Torah that had been given already.[15]

These two generations represent two different but equally important paradigms of man’s relationship to Torah and God. The generation that was exposed to God’s awesomeness and powerfulness was a generation that was in need of such wonders.  But it was also a generation that had very little free will, who struggled endlessly to become independent actors and who ultimately failed to do so.[16]  The generation of Esther, and by extension our generation, live in world where God is obscured.  Yet we are also more free to make choices, since we are in no way compelled to believe or not, act or not, and thus when we do engage in our covenantal responsibilities, we are fulfilling our covenantal responsibility in the greatest way possible.

Eliezer Berkovits expresses this idea eloquently:

 

Religion does not reduce man to being a puppet of God; it elevates him to his highest dignity by enabling him to acknowledge God in free commitment.  The ‘fellowship’ is initiated by God in the encounter; it s sustained after the encounter in the ever renewed act of faith by man. To make this possible, God must hide: During the encounter, to safeguard man’s own survival; in history, to protect, the spiritual independence of man in making his decision for God; and finally, God must remain elusive to the conclusive grasp of reason so that man may retain his intellectual freedom.  Where there is no compulsion, there can be no fellowship.[17]

In Esther we see the upside down world that can be a world that Nietzsche imagined or a world imagined by God. An evil, immoral world dominated by the ego and violence of Man or a harmonious world where Man uses his free will to work towards perfection.  It can be a world impelled by the Amalekian philosophy of chance, or a world enhanced by destiny minded individuals who work endlessly and tirelessly to create a better tomorrow in the belief that they can change and affect their reality.

On Purim when we play games of hiding and revealing, when we remind ourselves of the importance of our responsibility to our fellow Jew, when we recognise that Megillat Esther is the book of our generation, we will hear God’s call to man to be part of his individual and national covenantal destiny.  To feel the pain of his nation, as Mordechai does, to play an active role in saving and redeeming injustice as per Esther and to identify with our people, whether through fasting and prayer or rejoicing and feast, as do the people in Shushan.

May we merit to see our enemies beaten and our days of suffering turned into days of joy as did the people of Shushan:

כַּיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר-נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם, וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב; לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים.

The days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.[18]


[1] See Ezra, Nechmia, Chaggai

[2] Talmud Chulin 139b

[3] Bereshit 3:11

[4] Esther 4:14

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche: The Gay Science. Page 120

[6] Rav J.B. Soloveitchik: Fate and Destiny.  Best known for its reflections on the Holocaust and the State of Israel, this essay also discusses the notion of evil and man’s reaction to it.  Rav Soloveicthik, maintains that man cannot search for an answer as to why evil occurs, but should focus  rather on what man can make from his suffering.  He must not let the forces of fate work against him, rather he must transform his suffering into something positive by facing reality and existence  through the perspective of destiny as opposed to fate.

[7] In Esther Rabba 8:5 we are told that Haman is the descendent of Amalek, since they both attested to the world view of fate.

ויגד לו מרדכי את כל אשר קרהו אמר להתך לך אמור לה בן בנו של קרהו בא עליכם הה”ד (דברים כ”ה) אשר קרך בדרך

Mordechai told him of all that had happened to him (karahu)” – He said to Hatakh: Go and tell her (Esther), “The descendant of ‘karahu’ has come upon you” – as it is written, “They met you (karekha) on the way.”

[8] Devarim 25:

[9] Vayikra 26

[10] Shemot 17:7

[11] See Ezra 1, Chaggai 1:6, Sefer Hakuzari 2:24, all of which allude implicitly or explicitly to the people’s failure to return to the land and hear the divine mandate to rebuild theTemple.

[12] Maimonidies: Hilchot Taanit 1:3

[13] Esther 4

[14] Which reminds us of our presentation at the start of the discussion that paralleled Esther and Chava.  What I hope to have shown is that even though we would expect Chava to have been more compliant, it is precisely Esther, who inhabits a world where God is not present and reality not known, that takes ultimate responsibility.  For where God is not seemingly acting, Man must play a greater role.

[15] Shabbat 88a

[16] The primary reason they do not enter the land.  We will discuss this theme at length in Sefer Bamidbar.

[17] Eliezer Berkovits: Essential Essays on Judaism: God, Man and History p30 – 42

[18] Esther 9:22

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2 comments on “Venahafoch Hu: Between the Divine and Human role – Purim 5774
  1. Rachelle Ben-David says:

    Thank you, Tanya. After being in your classes in Matan for the last few years, I can understand what you’re talking about! (Plus-you express yourself so clearly.)
    Purim Sameach!

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