Revelation: The Next Level

A hidden God allows for a more active human role in the covenant.

Print this page Print this page

The Purim Model

In hindsight, the Rabbis perceived the Exodus model of Revelation as "flawed" in that the saved humans were overawed, "coerced" into accepting God's revelation and commandments. On Purim, however, the mature Jewish people, rejecting the need for audiovisual fireworks, discerned God's presence in their history. This understanding enabled them to encounter God in the reality of natural, or partially redeemed, history. They concluded that, after all, in Shushan, flawed human beings had been the carriers of divine redemption. The lesson may be generalized: moral ambiguity dilutes but does not negate the triumph of good.

Living after the Destruction, they noted that the Divine had ceased to intervene in manifest fashion. Therefore, in retrospect, the overt divine salvation that backed the Sinai offer of covenant was perceived as coercive, if for no other reason than the gratitude in the heart of the people saved from slavery obligated them to accept. The recognition of the hidden divine hand in Purim was the insight that showed that the Jews had come of age. They had reaccepted the covenant of Sinai on the "new" terms, knowing that destruction can take place, that the sea will not be split for them, that the Divine had self-limited. They took on the additional responsibilities for the covenant, maturely and bravely.

If one takes the Talmudic story to its ultimate logic, it is even bolder. It says that were Jews living only from the covenantal acceptance at Sinai, the Torah would not have been fully binding after the Destruction. Post-destruction Jews are living under the command of the Torah by dint of the reacceptance of the Torah at Purim-time. The covenant of Purim is also a covenant of redemption, but it is built around a core event that is brought about by a more hidden Divine Presence acting in partnership with human messengers. Yet the covenant of Purim does not replace Sinai, it renews it. Purim confirms that the road to redemption continues even though we live in a world where the mighty manifest acts of God are not available.

Post-Holocaust Redemption

Purim is the holiday for the post-Holocaust world, it is a model for the experience of redemption in the rebirth of Israel. In this era, too, the redemption is flawed by the narrow escape, by the great loss of life, by the officially "irreligious" nature of the leadership, by the mixed motives and characters of those who carried it out, by the human suffering it brought in its wake, and by the less-than-perfect society of Israel.

In our time, too, the "purists" wait for a "supernatural" miracle. Some object because of the religiously nonobservant element, others are crushed by the morally disturbing Arab refugee problem. Just as doctrinaire feminists get hung up on the "feminine" techniques of Esther, so are ideologues put off by the moral compromises involved in Israel's alliances and by the fact that it now gets support from the Establishment. People preoccupied with the equivocal details miss the overriding validity of the Purim and Israel events, events that occurred when the moral condition of the world needed such redemption, almost at all costs.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg was the president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and founding president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He also is the author of For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity (2004, Jewish Publication Society).