.As the war between the USA and Iraq comes closer and closer (and probably has already broken out by the time this essay is read by our readers), one cannot escape the fact that, just like 12 years ago in the days of the Gulf war, it is again the festival of Purim and the miraculous redemption of the Jewish people from the hands of Haman which hovers over this conflict. This should not be lost on us
In a remarkable Midrash on Mishle we read the following statement:
“When all the other festivals will be discontinued,
the festival of Purim will never be suspended.”
This observation seems to fly in the face of all the rest of Jewish Tradition, which states categorically that the Jewish festivals mentioned in the Torah, such as Pesach, Shavuoth and Succoth will never cease to be celebrated. This is mentioned by the Talmud on several occasions: “The Mitzvoth (including the festivals) of the Torah will never be nullified, not even in the future days (i.e. the messianic age.)”.
Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein in his famous commentary “Torah Temima”
(Esther 9:28), in the name of his father Rabbi Jechiel Michel Halevi Epstein, explains this contradiction in a most original way:
The miracle of Purim is very different from the miracles mentioned in the Torah. While the last were open miracles, such as the splitting of the Red Sea or the falling of the man (mana) in the desert, the miracle of Purim was hidden. Unlike the miracles narrated in the Torah, in the Purim story no law of nature was ever violated and the Jews were seemingly saved from the hands of Haman the evil man, by normal historical events. Had one lived in those days one would not have noticed anything unusual and many secularists would have explained the miracle of the redemption of the Jews in Persia as the logical outcome of natural forces and historical facts. Only retroactively when looking back into the story would one have been astonished by all the accidents and incidents, their unusual sequence, the seemingly unrelated and insignificant human acts which led to the complete redemption of the Jews at the time of Achashverosh’s empire. The discovery that all the normal events in fact revealed a miracle could only become clear after the occasion.
Such miracles will never cease to exist, explains the Torah Temima in the name of his father. But open miracles such as the splitting of the Red Sea have come to an end. As such the above mentioned Midrash is not suggesting that the actual festivals mentioned in the Torah will be nullified in future days, since this would contradict the Jewish faith, but that the original reasons why they are celebrated, i.e. the open miracles, have ceased to come about. So one should read the Midrash as follows: Open miracles which are celebrated on festivals mentioned in the Torah no longer occur, but the kind of miracles such as those of Purim will never be suspended. In other words: While all the other Torah festivals will still be celebrated as great historical events in Jewish history, and as such contemporized so as to make them relevant for our own lives, Purim, although rooted in a historical event of many years ago, does not commemorate any such event in the past but functions as a constant reminder that the Purim story never ended. We live in Purim times. As such the Megilah was never completed!
Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner z.l. in his celebrated work Pachad Yitzchak, uses this fact to explain a highly unusual halachic stipulation related to Purim. As is well known, on all Torah festivals, the congregation sings “Hallel”, the well known classical compilation of specific Psalms. These Psalms praise God for all the great miracles He performed for Israel in biblical times. Why then asks the Talmud, do we not sing Hallel on Purim? Is this not even more of a reason to sing these Psalms on the day when the great miracle took place of the salvation of Israel from the hands of Haman? The Talmud answers that Keriyata Zu Hi Hillula. (The reading of the Megilah of Esther that is Hallel.) In other words when one reads the story of Esther, one actually fulfils the obligation to sing Hallel because telling this story is itself the greatest praise to God for having saved the Jews. One of the most celebrated commentators Rabbi Menachem Meiri, speculates however about the need to say Hallel on Purim when one is not able to read or hear the Megilah, i.e. the actual story. In this case, in according to his opinion, one should indeed sing Hallel, since one needs to thank God for what happened. If this cannot be done by reading the Megilah then one should indeed sing Hallel! Rabbi Hutner however turns our attention to the fact that no other authority agrees with the opinion of Rabbi Meiri. They are of the opinion that if one is unable to read the Megilah, one should still not sing Hallel.
Rabbi Hutner explains this ruling in a most remarkable way: Hallel speaks about open miracles and praises God for such revealed marvels. Hallel does not speak about and does not intend to praise God for hidden miracles which must be praised in a hidden way so as to remind the worshipper that such miracles actually take place. This is the reason why on Purim one reads the Megilah of Esther instead of Hallel. Megilath Esther is the story of a hidden miracle and by reading this story in front of the congregation, God receives praise in the appropriate way i.e. in a hidden way. After all, it is not God who needs any praise but it is man who needs to praise and he consequently has to do it in such a way that it corresponds to the actual miracle. Singing Hallel instead is therefore missing the point.
Without claiming any divine revelation, we dare to say that the war with Iraq will be rooted in a Purim setting. Although it is difficult to know what will actually happen, (especially the day after) it will become clear that Israel, like in the Gulf war, once more experienced a hidden miracle. Only in the years to come will all the political and military information be revealed and only then will it be realized that a miracle had taken place. This may be the reason why this war is once more is taking place around the time of Purim. By having read the Megilah on previous days, Israel will once more be reminded of its Father in heaven and realize that the bizarre and exceptional circumstances under which it survives proves that the real Purim story has not yet ended.
May peace come to Israel and all good people in the world.