Purim: a holiday of hiding and revealing
March 09, 2016
Because this year is a leap year on the Jewish calendar, we've had an extra month between Tu BiShvat and Purim... but Purim will be here soon, not long after the vernal equinox which marks the official first day of spring.
I used to think Purim was just a kids' holiday, an opportunity to dress up and make noise in shul. But even though I have a kindergartener who loves the schtick and silliness of Purim, I've come to savor Purim for the gifts it offers me as an adult. Each year, Purim teaches me again how to find divine presence in places and times which I might otherwise have mistakenly imagined to be devoid of God.
Here's a bit of wordplay which reflects some of what I'm talking about. Purim features a megillah (scroll) in which God is never explicitly megaleh (revealed). God's explicit presence is nistar (hidden) in this book -- as Esther (can you hear the connection between "Esther" and "nistar"?) hides her Jewishness when she enters the royal palace.
But Esther reveals her Jewishness when her people need her, and God's presence is woven throughout the story in the twists and turns of providence. Purim is a holiday of hiding and revealing. At Purim, God hides in plain sight.
I love the idea that God can hide in plain sight. Because if God can be hidden, than any place where (or time when) I feel as though God's presence is missing, it's possible I might be wrong about that. Our tradition contains this wisdom in a variety of places: not only implicitly in the Purim story, but explicitly in the Tikkunei Zohar, which teaches that there is no place devoid of the divine presence.
Here's what that means to me. No matter where we are, no matter what we're doing, God is with us. No matter what we are feeling -- even if what we are feeling is frustration, or loneliness, or grief -- God is with us. Even at times when life feels hopeless and we feel existentially alone, God is with us. Even when God's presence is neither visible nor palpable, God is with us.
I don't know what the word "God" means to you. I know that for some of us, that word is freighted, or opaque, or alienating. Fortunately our tradition offers us plenty of other words to try on. One of my favorites right now is the Hebrew word Havayah. It's a reshuffling of the letters yud-heh-vav-heh, the four-letter Name of God which is found in Torah and which is often understood as a permutation of the verb "to be." But Havayah can also be understood to mean "The Accompanier," or "The One Who Accompanies."
When I use the name Havayah, I'm reminding myself that I never need to feel alone. I'm reminding myself, as the Purim story reminds me, that even when God seems hidden, that doesn't mean there is no source of holiness in the world. Maybe what I'm experiencing is just a divine game of hide-and-seek. Maybe God hides in order that we might do the work of seeking. Maybe the seeking itself is what I really need to find... and I'm never truly doing it alone, because the One Who Accompanies is always with me.
These are intense theological musings to have been sparked by a scroll which is, on the surface, a bawdy soap opera about a long-ago Persian court! For me, that's precisely the point. Purim teaches me to seek (and find) depth, or meaning, or God, even in the unlikeliest of places. May you find wondrous things in unlikely places, this spring and always.
This originally appeared in the Berkshire Jewish Voice, in their Feb. 14 to April 2 issue.