- In many ways, the upcoming holiday of Purim is a microcosm of much of Jewish history outside Israel: A rabid antisemite seeks to destroy the local Jewish populace; defenseless Jews cower in fear, at the mercy of their hosts; last-minute, behind the scenes machinations - orchestrated by some genuine heroes and assisted by friends in high places - save the Jews in dramatic fashion. The Jewish community heaves a sigh of relief, declares a holiday, and awaits the next crisis.
Yet I suggest that Purim - though it occurred in Persia - is as much a metaphor for life in modern Israel as it is for the Diaspora experience.
One of the key questions regarding Purim is the role of God. Does God play a part in this story, or doesn't He? All the events revolve around human beings, and no supernatural miracles of any sort occur. In fact, the Megila has not a single reference to God, being the only book of Scriptures which totally omits His name.
In Israel, there has always been a raging debate about the place of God and religion in our national and political life. Many of the original founders of the state, like Ben-Gurion, were prepared to tolerate a religious influence in the fledgling nation, as long as it was restricted to places of worship, national holidays, and family matters. But God was persona non grata in the courts, in the halls of power, and in the decisions of state, which had to be conducted along much the same lines as in any other civilized country.
Others in the power structure were not so benevolent - they tried hard to eliminate God from every quarter, arguing that a modern, "enlightened," 20th-century nation has no place for illusions of the divine. Thus Yemenite children had their earlocks cut off, and were forcibly placed in non-religious schools and kibbutzim. Whole parties, like Meretz, were created to attack and dismantle the religious influence, cynically mocking the "outdated" laws and mores of the observant population (who can forget Shulamit Aloni referring to the chief rabbis as the "twin popes" of Israel?). The same attitude is reflected in Ehud Barak's ill-fated "social reform," a thinly veiled attempt to eradicate the special Jewish character from every official aspect of everyday state affairs.
Nor is this approach unique to the secular population. At the other end of the spectrum, there are numerous observant Jews who restrict God to their own definition of whom He cares about and where He gets involved. I recall meeting such a group of Jews who refused to acknowledge either the victories or the sacrifice of our armed forces, telling me, "God could have nothing to do with the IDF." This atheistic posture is not only misguided and elitist; it also represents a total misreading of the people's belief in what I call, "the God factor." For on virtually every level, we are a people and a state with an acute awareness of the fact that we are special, that we operate by different standards, and that, in the community of nations and by the laws of logic, we simply "do not compute." And what makes us different is our connection to God.
The average Israeli, observant or not, innately understands that we could not have created - much less sustained - this little nation, without some help from above. He recognizes that our astounding military victories were more than just luck, tactics or fighting spirit. He knows that there is no earthly financial explanation of how our economy is in such dire straits and yet new cars abound on the road, and virtually no home in Israel lacks a computer, video, or TV.
He expresses this belief in various ways: in outright praise of God and commitment to the Torah; in the constant mention of God's name for every occasion - "God willing," "Blessed is God," "God help us," "God have mercy," etc; or even in his natural affinity for Jewish holidays and Jewish life-cycle events. One need only witness the popularity of songs like Moshiach at secular weddings or watch the non-observant clamoring to kiss the Torah at the Second Hakafot following Simchat Torah to feel the emotional tie which the average citizen of Israel has to God and Judaism.
I believe it is this tie to God which convinces Jews to immigrate here from the affluent countries of the West; to bravely settle the ancient biblical heartland; to withstand terror and trauma on a continual basis; and to raise our children with the optimism that we shall surely conquer all the formidable obstacles in our path. Somehow we know that God is with us, and not necessarily on the "side with the strongest army," and that He will see us through this and every crisis.
The challenge of Purim is to bring God back into the equation, to live in a natural, normal environment and yet to be able to remove the masks and see God everywhere. To affirm that life is not a lottery, conducted at random, but rather an ordered, directed universe with a captain steering the ship.
True, God's name is not mentioned in the Book of Esther. But when God is everywhere, he need not be restricted to any one page or paragraph.
(The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana.)
©2001 - Jerusalem Post