Esther, Mordechai, and Us, Searching for Our Purpose

By Rabbi Jill Maderer

This weekend, celebrate Purim!  Saturday night at 7 pm, at our Purim Shpeil and  Party, adults will come in costume, hear some Megillah, enjoy the shpeil (skit) and party until we can’t distinguish between Mordechai and Haman!  Sunday morning at 9:30 am, at the Purim Carnival, families and children of all ages will hear Megillah, enjoy a shpeil, join a costume parade, and jump on the moonbounce!

Before the silliness begins, let us turn to words of inspiration about how Mordechai, Esther and we, determine our purpose in this world.  In his book, Days of Deliverance, 20th c. thinker Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik z”l explores a discrepancy between the mission assigned to Moses, in the Exodus story, and that assigned to Esther and Mordechai, in the Purim story. Rabbi Soloveitchik writes: “The mission with which Moses was charged was precisely defined.  Moses did not enjoy freedom of decision and action.  He received specific instructions…  ‘Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward.  Lift your rod and stretch out your hand over the sea’ (Ex. 14:15-16).  Mordechai, in contrast to this kind of agency, received not a clearly defined but a multi-faceted mandate.  It was left to him how to interpret and implement this mandate” (p. 71).

In the prophetic period, God’s communication is clear and direct.  In the post-prophetic era, God’s communication is mysterious and indirect.  God’s will in the Purim story is unclear and unspoken, as God’s name does not even appear in the whole Book of Esther.  Yet, Esther’s name in Hebrew is hester, meaning, hidden.  So our sages see in Esther’s name a sign that God is hidden, and therefore present, in the story.

The Purim story involves the fantastic tale of some extreme and sometimes absurd characters and situations.  In many ways, their narratives feel far from our own.  Yet, perhaps they share this in common with us: the Purim characters are not prophets, with specific messages about God’s design.  Mordechai and Esther have to determine their mission without clear instructions, using their own instincts about God’s will and using their own creativity and initiative to further their purpose.  This sometimes hidden God is the challenge and the opportunity of post-prophecy life.  Perhaps the challenge of Esther and Mordechai is our own challenge today, as each of us tries to understand how to do God’s work here on earth.

Hag Purim Sameach!