Starting at sundown this Wednesday, Jews around the world will rejoice in the holiday of Purim and everyone – both children and adults – will be decked out in costume. So what is Purim about, and why do we wear costumes?
The story of Purim, told in the biblical book of Esther, begins more than 2,000 years ago when the King of Persia chose a young, orphaned Jewish girl named Esther to be his queen. This choice was significant because the king had just agreed to his advisor’s plot to annihilate the Jews. He ruled over 127 states and had the power to make the complete genocide of the Jewish people a reality.
Thankfully, Esther’s uncle, Mordechai, was the leading Jewish Sage of the generation. He had raised Esther in his home and advised her on how to use the king’s affection for her as a means of overturning the decree to annihilate the Jewish people. In short, Esther and Mordechai saved the Jewish people.
Throughout the Purim story, God and His miraculous ways seem to be hidden. In fact, God’s name is not mentioned even once in the book of Esther. Furthermore, in Hebrew we don’t call it “the book of Esther”; we call it Megilat Ester, which means, literally, “revelation of that which is hidden.” So why isn’t God’s name mentioned, and what is the secret that is being revealed in Megilat Ester?
Throughout life, there are times when it seems that we are alone and that life has no purpose. There are times when people question if there is a higher power guiding our lives, and whether everything that happens, both on a personal and global scale, is simply random.
Here is where the lessons of Purim come in to play. In the story of Purim, unlike the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, God did not openly perform miracles to pull the Jewish people out of the clutches of evil. Rather, God worked His miracles through seemingly ordinary events to save the Jews from Haman’s evil plot. These days, revealed miracles are rare, and we need to rely on our faith that God is involved and in charge of our everyday lives.
Wearing costumes is a large part of the Purim celebration because it reminds us that while God’s hand is hidden in this physical world – which has led many scientists and philosophers to believe that only the laws of nature govern our planet – in reality, God’s providence is hidden within everything that exists. He gives life to every cell in our bodies, provides sustenance to every living organism, and enables mere matter to be. God is alive, real, and a critical part of this world.
Man can choose between seeing God’s guiding hand in everything, or claiming that whatever happens is just coincidence. Therefore on Purim, we wear costumes to recall that everything that happens – on a molecular level, on a personal level, and on a global level – is driven by God’s guiding force, leading every event towards His master plan for His creation.
Learn more lessons from Purim in this month's Limmud study on Haman, one of the key players in the story of Purim.