Purim and Providence: Who Knows?

This coming week we will be celebrating the holiday of Purim and reading the megilla. Famously, God’s name does not appear once in the entire account of the story of Purim. Our sages tell us, that this is because the miracle of Purim is hidden; God’s role in the events which transpired was subtle, behind the scenes. This is characteristic of our lives in exile. God’s presence is more removed from us; we don’t have open miracles and clear demonstrations of His providence the same way we once did. Nevertheless it is essential that we recognize, that although we may not always be able to discern it, God’s hand is involved in the history of our nation.

Mordechai and Esther provide us with the model, of how to properly relate to God’s providence. Mordechai speaks to Esther, asking her to intercede on behalf of the Jews. He says, “For if you are quiet at this time, then relief and deliverance will arise to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish; and who knows whether you have not come to royalty for a time such as this?” This does not strike us a particularly “religious” question. What do you mean “who knows?” Of course it must be for this moment, this is God’s plan.

What Mordechai was telling Esther, was that she must do her part to work towards the safety of the Jewish people. That is all that we can have control over. We don’t know what God’s plan is in the moment, sometimes not even after years, and sometimes never. Most of the time we can’t say definitively that particular events are directly from God. Not even Mordechai felt like he could say that at that time. But we do know what we are supposed to do – to live our lives with wisdom and according to the principles of the Torah. It is up to God to do the rest.

We have to be able to understand the middle ground. We can’t sit back and assume that God will take care of everything. We must first do all that we can to carry out our mission. But we must also realize that our ultimate success lies out of our hands. That we often do everything we possibly can and it is still not enough. There are always a multitude of factors which lie out of our control. We can only follow the lead of our ancestors. Esther responded to Mordechai saying, “Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast; and so will I go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” Esther agreed to Mordechai’s plan, but recognized that without prayer, and without repentance, the likelihood of their success was limited. This is the way of our people – we live and plan our lives with wisdom. But we couple that with the recognition of our limitations as well as the One who ultimately guarantees our success.