In just a few days, Jews around the world will celebrate the joyful holiday of Purim, which commemorates the events written about in the Book of Esther.
Anyone who knows the Bible will be familiar with the story: The Jewish people were seemingly destined for annihilation due to Haman, an evil advisor to the King of Persia who had convinced the king to kill all of Persia’s Jews. However, with the help of God working behind the scenes, Queen Esther, the king’s wife who had kept her Jewish identity hidden, courageously risked her life and saved her people.
Remembering God’s Hidden Presence
One of the ways that Purim is celebrated is by dressing up in costumes. For the last few weeks, my kids have been busy getting their costumes together and dressing up for Purim carnivals. Everybody — waiters in cafes, cashiers in stores, teachers in school — gets into the spirit of the holiday by wearing funny hats or masks.
We wear costumes on Purim to emphasize that things are never as they appear to be on the surface. Rather, God is orchestrating events in ways that we could never understand. What looks like a hopeless situation can become a joyful celebration because of God’s intervention. We remember His constant, yet hidden presence by “hiding” our true selves in costumes.
This tradition makes a lot of sense, given the theme of God’s hidden providence in the story of Esther. (In fact, the name “Esther” itself means “hidden”). Yet, when Mordecai dictated the way that the holiday should be observed, he didn’t mention anything about dressing up. Instead, he said: “observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22). The three ways to celebrate are by having a festive meal, sending food packages to friends, and giving charity.
The Messages of Purim
The festive meal makes perfect sense given the joyful nature of the holiday. But how does sending food to friends and giving charity relate to the messages of Purim?
I think that the answer applies very much to all of us today. By giving gifts of food and charity, we increase fellowship and unity among people – and that is the way to overcome challenges and vanquish evil, just as the Jews did in Esther’s time.
In the beginning of the Purim story, Haman described the Jews as a “certain people dispersed among the peoples” (Esther 3:8). The Jewish sages explained that this description teaches us that, at the time, the Jews were in a state of disunity. But, through the hardships they encountered, they came together and prayed together. And, as a result, God saved them.
Today, we have our fair share of challenges. From dangerous, terrorist-supporting countries like Iran, to the coronavirus, we face many physical threats. Jews in particular have to contend with record high anti-Semitism around the world. Yet, we must remember that the way to fight these destructive forces is not by physical means alone, but also through meaningful spiritual actions. Acts of kindness like giving charity and blessing others are critical ways to bring about salvation. Loving one another and coming together in unity empowers us to overcome our enemies.
Of all the names that our ministry could have been called, I love that we are known as “The Fellowship.” I believe that the unity we foster by bringing Jews and Christians together is the secret to our success. This Purim, let us grow in our love and respect, and in giving to one another. When we come together for God’s purposes, we bring God’s providence into our work and His blessings into all aspects of our lives.
With blessings from the Holy Land,
Tags: Bible Esther Holidays IFCJ Purim The Fellowship