Where Was God?

The "hidden God" of the Purim story can serve as a model for God's role in the modern world.

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How then can one speak of God with integrity?

The holiday of Purim is a good guide as to how one can affirm. The answer is: humorously, tentatively, humanistically. Purim teaches how to speak subtly, admitting the alternatives yet knowing the reality of meaningfulness. Purim speaks of "chance" (lots), yet hiding between forms of chance is the Divine Presence. Vashti's recalcitrance enabled Esther to assume the throne; the king's insomnia raised Mordecai to greatness. These are "random" incidents that, decoded, spell out a pattern of redemption. These are natural events that point beyond themselves to a greater meaning.

Such speech about God also torments, of course. What kind of world is this, where a king authorizes mass murder and, a short time later, does not even remember the incident! When Esther tells him of the Jews' tragic fate, he asks her: Who is this who has dared to do this? What kind of world is this, where genocide is narrowly averted by flirty tea parties, by currying favor and appealing to male chauvinism? Yet by that margin the Jews are saved. The promise endures. The people of Israel live. One recognizes the implication: Our Father still lives.

No wonder Purim speaks in the language of party, feast, and drinking. Celebrate the vulnerability of life. Eat, drink, and be merry, for today the good win! Tomorrow the turn of the wheel may endanger it all. Do not despair or sulk! Admit your vulnerability and share your wealth with the poor, your friends, your family. In this way, pleasure expresses religious value. The material embodies the spiritual hope and affirmation.

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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).