I’m a fan of Purim. Yes, I love the costumes, the hamantaschen (chocolate filled, not fruit), and the general revelry that’s vastly different in atmosphere from other holidays. What I surprisingly like most about Purim, however, is the way it forces me to think about the spark of the Divine in my life, or I guess you could call it a higher power.
Okay, I’ll just say it without any euphemisms. Purim makes me think and even talk about God, which is a strange sentence for me to type. For all the writing I do about Jewish topics, I don’t use the G-word very much at all. When I try, it feels forced and unnatural, which is true when I’m in conversations offline as well.
Although I grew up with a strong cultural Jewish identity surrounded by tons of Jewish friends, nobody I knew in my family or in my social circles ran around dropping the G-word. In contrast, I hear my Orthodox friends say “Hashem” with so much ease and frequency that I never know what to say in return. It’s a conversation stopper to say the least.
How are you? I’ll ask, and I always get “Baruch Hashem” (Practically translated as “Thank God”) in response. How are the kids? Baruch Hashem. How was the weather on your vacation? Baruch Hashem. How’s the new job? Baruch Hashem.
Despite my reluctance to use the G-word, I do believe in God. It’s just not easy for someone like me, someone not completely Torah observant, to casually say so or to even imply it without feeling like I’m preaching, judging, posturing, or simply putting on an act. My mom once heard me saying something about God to my kids, to which she said, “You sound so Christian.” I don’t blame my mom for coming to that conclusion though. It’s as if you have to wear your religion on your sleeve at all times to use “God” with any authenticity. In other words, unless I’m donning a sheitel (a wig) or a cross, letting the G-word slip out sounds out of place.
Here is where Purim comes in strong as a great holiday for those of us who believe in God, but are less comfortable mentioning it all the time. On Purim we are thankful to God for our people’s unlikely triumph over their enemies in ancient Shushan (Persia), but the “The Book of Esther,” which contains the entire Purim story, does not mention God. Not once!
Purim features no mysterious “Book of Life;” there’s no burning bush, no plagues; no parting of the Red Sea; no Moses talking to God at Mount Sinai. In fact, there are no obvious miracles whatsoever in the Purim story. All we have are a series of what seem like coincidences and random events that lead to Esther becoming Queen, which puts her Uncle Mordechai in the position to persuade King Ahasuerus to reverse his Prime Minister Haman’s decree to have all the Jews–men, women, and children–murdered.
Like the old saying goes in reference to several of our holidays, “They tried to kill us. God saved us. Let’s eat.” Except in this case, the part about God saving us is much less apparent. As in our own lives, we can interpret the close calls and lucky moments of the Purim story as pure coincidence; or, as the Rabbis tell us when interpreting this particular story, we can choose to recognize the hidden face of God. We wear costumes on Purim, in fact, to remember the concealed presence of God in the Purim story and in our lives.
I’m not telling you what to believe. I’m saying Purim reminds me that even if I rarely mention God aloud, and even if I sometimes forget to act with the proper humility and gratitude, I do feel that there is a greater force at play. I have felt that subtle force more times than I can possibly count. I happened to feel it strongly the day in November of 1999 when I met the man who would become my husband, but otherwise it’s hard to point to an incident and say there was something bigger at hand.
“There you are,” I thought the minute Bryan introduced himself. I was only a senior in college and far from looking for a husband, but there he was. We were engaged a year later and married 11 months after that. Those strong moments, however, are few and far between, which makes my day-to-day existence and most of ours much more like the Purim story than the Passover narrative with all the heavy-handed theatrics that are impossible to miss.
Perhaps with time I will more comfortably drop the G-word into conversation, or at least think about God more in my mind rather than brush off what I feel and have trouble articulating. I have to add that it makes me smile to know that a few of my religious friends will read that line and say to themselves without skipping a beat “Baruch Hashem.”