Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently heard a talk where the lecturer was challenging the choice to include the Book of Esther in the Tanach since the name of God doesn’t appear in the entire book, unlike other books of the Tanach, which would imply that it is a secular work and not fit for the Tanach.
Do you have an explanation why it is included?
The Talmudic sages address this question, and explain that whenever the Book of Esther says “the King” without the name Ahasuerus, it is hinting to “The” King, the Al-mighty. This, however, is also strange; why, in fact would it only “hint” to God and not come straight out and say His Name?
The answer goes to the crux of the Purim story and message. The Talmud says that the hint in the Torah that there will one day be an Esther and a Purim story is in a verse which foretells the future downfall of the Jews when they will sin and will be presented with tremendous trials and tribulations: “… and they will say because God is not with among us that these tribulations are befalling us, and I will surely hide My Face from them on that day” (Deuteronomy 31:18). The word I will “hide” My Face in the verse is pronounced astir but written without a yud; it has the same spelling in Hebrew as “Esther”!
Unlike Pesach and the other holidays which celebrate great miracles by which we were redeemed, the events of Purim were in the category of “hidden miracles.” It was clear to all that the 10 plagues were an act of God; the splitting of the sea was obviously an open miracle. What transpired in Shushan over a period of nearly a decade, with many of the events seemingly antithetical to what was good for the Jews, was not at all clear to anyone as to what was happening. It was only at the end that the Jews realized, after piecing together these events, that they were pieces of an intricate puzzle which made a big picture. That picture told a thousand words: that God still loves the Jews even as they have sunken to their lowest spiritual level and have distanced themselves greatly from their Creator.
The commentaries point out that any time God’s Name appears in Tanach, it means at that moment God revealed Himself to those involved in the story. Since in the Purim story God was controlling events from behind the scenes, His Name doesn’t appear; only a hint in the form of “The King.” It was upon us to delve more deeply into these events and to realize that the actions of the lowly King Ahasuerus are ultimately in the Hands of a Higher King.
The Vilna Gaon, some 250 years ago, explained this with the following parable: A rich and powerful king showered innumerable gifts upon his only son, who quickly began to become spoiled and haughty, to the ire of many in the palace who craved his demise. One day the prince was so brazen as to slap his father in the face! At that moment, the king realized that all the warnings of his advisors were true and he needed to teach his son an important lesson. He would banish him to the dark, dreary forest to get the message. Knowing how many were savoring the opportunity to finish the prince off, the king called his closest confidants and instructed them to protect his son that no harm should befall him. He wanted to teach him a lesson, not find him dead. They must, however, in no way let the prince know they were sent by the king!
The prince entered the forest thinking his time is near. Soon thereafter he saw a man brandishing a large knife running in his direction. At the last moment, he heard an arrow swish by, taking down his would-be killer. The next day the prince found himself surrounded on four sides by huge men, and as they closed in on him, he heard the quiet swishes of arrows and all four men fell. Like the day before, he looked around to see who saved him and saw no one. He thought, what a lucky break twice in a row! On the third day, he knew it was all over when he was being charged by a huge bear and, again, a few arrows took it down at the last moment. But, no one was to be seen!
The prince then sat under a tree and began to contemplate. Once, twice, could have been good luck. Three times in a row is more than good luck. Someone was looking out for him. Who could it be?! Surely not his father, for he now hates him after slapping him in the face. But, there’s nobody else out there with the power to do this…could it actually be his father after all? It must be, showing that he still loves him despite what he did! The prince, upon realizing this, began to weep and resolved to ask forgiveness and change his ways, which he soon did.
We also slapped God “in the face” by performing the sins which got us banished from our Land to the dark, dreary and dangerous forest of the Diaspora, with many wanting our demise. With the decree of Haman, the first “final solution,” we thought we were finished. Then we saw that our Father, the King, still loves us and was protecting us behind the scenes despite the chutzpah we had shown Him. We learned the lesson which instilled into our hearts even a deeper love than when we were in the palace, in our Land with the Temple. We went from a time of mourning to a time of great joy and celebration.
This is why God’s name is absent in the Book of Esther, but why it very much belongs in the Tanach!
A joyous and meaningful Purim to all!