Jewish Times Asia March 2015
Purim: the Non-Miraculous Miracles
he Book of Esther and the Book of Ruth are both named after their protagonists, but each one of them depicts a very different picture of Jewish life. The Book of Ruth is a vignette of life in the Land of Israel a few hundred years after the Exodus, while the Book of Esther is a rather broad canvas of Jewish life in exile, in an environment and a series of events that are very much connected to the life and politics of the time.
The story of Ruth is an idyllic picture, even though it begins with the personal suffering of Ruth, a convert who decided to join the Jewish nation and faith, and a story of the simple acts of an outstanding personality, a straightforward and profoundly believing individual. Esther, on the other hand, unwillingly becomes queen. Her life and deeds take place in the royal court and are connected with the state politics of her time, whereby she is a hidden, yet very powerful person who affects and alters the course of history.
Presence can, then, reveal itself not only in supernatural events, but also through seeming coincidences and interconnections between different events that add up to a miracle.
In a symbolic way, despite her important influence on the future of the Jewish people, Esther is an end of a history, because personally speaking, she is not going anywhere. We do not know about her having any children (despite the Midrash that claims that one of the kings of Persia was her son). Ruth, on the other hand, has a great future: in our sources she is called “the mother of the kingdom,” because in her is the beginning of the Jewish Kingdom – until the days of the Messiah (Mashiach).
Both books teach us that the notion of miracle is not identical with the Supernatural, but rather it has to do with the significance of events. A miracle is defined not by the marvels involved in it, but rather by the meaning it bears for the people involved – what the daily prayer calls “Your miracles that happen every day.”
Both books contain no miraculous events – which gives rise to a different understanding of what miracles are. In the Book of Ruth, the most extraordinary feature is Ruth herself. The miracle of Purim, too, is not brought about by any supernatural event. There certainly are miracles, many of which are described in the Bible, that are supernatural; but there is also another kind of miracle: miracles made up of well-explained interconnected events, that somehow bring about a significant change. The Divine
The ability to see the miraculous in common everyday occurrences is yet another way of connecting with the Divine. It is not only through extraordinary events that Divine Providence is revealed, but also through our ability to perceive the hidden, miraculous aspect of the commonplace daily events that make up our lives. Our perception is often too clogged by habit and custom, and makes us unable to see many truly glorious things. Every day we make blessings on many simple
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events: eating, sleeping, waking up, bodily functions, traveling, etc., and in many ways, they are a call to us: Open your eyes! Think about the ordinary! See the power and the beauty in our existence! Sometimes these minor events add up to something major, for which we feel compelled to give thanks; but even when they do not, we are called upon to seek and find the supreme in our simple daily life. We cannot make holiday blessings every moment of our life; but we can keep in mind an essential component of our religion: God’s Presence in everything, even in those things that we tend to overlook or ignore. The Book of Esther teaches us that the holiday of Purim, with all its fun and sometimes wildness, is just the epitome of what life in general is: an existence that is less miraculous than the greatest and most evident miracles. Purim, then, is meaningful not only for itself, but also for the entire year. Supplied by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
The festival of Purim is celebrated every year on 14 Adar. It is one of Judaism’s most joyous and dramatic holidays with fancy dress an important criteria for both children and adults! It commemorates a time when the Jewish people were living in Persia in 4th century BCE and were saved from extermination. The festival tells the story in the Book of Esther. The day before Purim there is a fast day on the 13 Adar, known as the Fast of Esther. It commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the King and the date chosen by a lottery to order the extermination of all Jews. The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre. Obligations for Purim There are four specific mitzvot: • Reading the Megillah Esther • Festivity and rejoicing – the Purim meal • Sending food to friends – Mishloach Manot • Giving gifts to the poor – Matanot La’evyonim