Celebrating the Hidden Hand of God

In my most recent post on the Purim story, we left off at the point where King Xerxes had ordered the death of his wife, Queen Vashti, for refusing her husband’s drunken demand to appear before the throne. With no queen by his side, Xerxes began his quest to replace Vashti with a beautiful new wife.The virgins of Shushan were rounded up, either by choice or force, and brought to the king’s harem, where they would spend the rest of their days as Xerxes’ concubines. Yet, from all the young women who were rounded up, only one was chosen to be queen of the Persian Empire.In the following chapter in the book of Esther, we are introduced to Mordecai and Esther. Esther, we are told, was Mordecai’s niece, who he adopted and raised as his own after her parents had died. We’re also informed of Mordecai’s lineage going back three generations: “a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish” (Esther 2:5). From here we deduce that both Mordecai and Esther came from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, which will have many ramifications later on in the story of Purim.But for now the story relates how Esther had gone from being an orphaned girl living with her uncle Mordecai to being the queen of Persia who would eventually, together with her uncle, save the Jewish people from complete annihilation.After rounding up the maidens of Shushan, it was Esther who the king found more favorable than the rest. And so the pious Esther, who was raised in the home of the righteous, brilliant scholar Mordecai, ended up sharing a bed with a decadent, miserable king whose drunken stupor and lust-filled rage had already cost the life of his first wife.It’s important to note that God’s name does not appear once in the entire book of Esther. In fact, “Esther” in Hebrew means “hidden,” and the book of Esther and the holiday of Purim are celebrations of the hidden hand of God that controls and directs every event in human experience, whether on a global, geopolitical level, or on a personal level.In the story of the Exodus we witnessed the mighty hand of God at work, and the nation of Israel was redeemed through revelations and miracles. The holiday that commemorates that event, Passover, celebrates God’s power over nature and His ability to defy the natural order whenever necessary to carry out His will in the world which He created.Purim, however, celebrates God’s presence concealed in nature. That is why His name is not mentioned in the book of Esther – because it is incumbent upon us to recognize His hand in the world, whether He makes it overtly visible or not. Mankind has been given free will. We can choose to believe in the Creator and fulfill the laws and ethics He gave to us, or we can deny His very existence, with the belief that nature created itself, and that man alone governs the world.Esther stands as a testimony of God’s eternal yet hidden presence. Not just at the splitting of the Red Sea, but here, now, and always! Esther’s being chosen as Xerxes’ wife might have seemed haphazard and unfortunate at the time. Yet viewed in hindsight, it was clearly the hand of God setting her on the path to become one of Israel’s greatest rescuers.

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