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Unveiling the Virtues of Purim: Absence, Faith, and Courage

How could the story of Purim help us think the world after October 7?

Since October 7, for many of us Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, God seems stubbornly silent - leaving us alone to act in the world.

For many of us, on October 7, the world seems to have turned upside down, falling into a dark side of humanity, even as the shadow of the Shoah is still palpable.

In this painful context, Purim offers a luminous wisdom, that its carnivalesque side barely masks:

Behind the disguises of pshat (the literal meaning of reading), Purim speaks of the role incumbent on man in a world where God seems absent.

In contrast to the miracles of the oil at Hanukkah, the splitting of the sea at Pessach, or the dramatic revelation of Mount Sinai at Shavuot, at Purim, not only does the god of Israel not intervene: It is not even mentioned.

Perhaps this is what makes Purim so close to us: its backdrop looks like our daily lives more than any other: a context in which God especially since October 7, seems stubbornly absent, as if its Shekhina was disinterested in the fate of men.

Is this the end of the story?

On the contrary, it may be just the beginning.

In the Jewish tradition, invisibility isn’t absence.

On the contrary, the silence of God is a call to human action.

But how can we have the courage to act when God seems absent from the world?

We need faith, that is: keeping choosing to bet that God’s presence shines in our lives, even invisible, even hidden (nistar) behind the clouds of his absence, keeping choosing to believe that human action will not be alone, but supported.

This is what Mordechai seems to say to Esther, at the dramatic peak of the Purim story, when he urges her to take action:

  רֶףוַח וְהַצָּלָ֞ה יַעֲמ֤וֹד לַיְּהוּדִים֙ מִמָּק֣וֹם אַחֵ֔ר

“relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place (...).

רֶ֣וַח וְהַצָּלָ֞ה יַעֲמ֤וֹד לַיְּהוּדִים֙ מִמָּק֣וֹם אַחֵ֔ר

  And who knows, maybe you came to royalty for just such a moment.”

וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת׃

Mordechai speaks as if he knows that there will be a happy ending to the story.

He makes the choice to believe, and encourages Esther to dare acting.

“Faith”, ‘emunah” in Hebrew, speaks of “ trust”.

And trusting is none other than the choice to entrust our lives into something greater than ourselves.

Granted, something invisible - something impalpable, but something we know, deep down, to bemuch more real than the theater of the world.

This is emunah.

To believe, from a Jewish perspective, means taking action:  choosing to entrust ourselves into God while taking control of our own destiny, having the courage to act while feeling supported, even by something invisible.

Accounts from survivors of the October 7 fighting bear witness to such a dynamic, and it is not surprising:

In war situations, especially when it comes to saving one's loved ones, emunah inspires acts of incredible courage.

This was the gesture of Gandhi, who persisted in believing that he could free his people when reality persisted in showing him the opposite.

Such was that of Nelson Mandela and Nathan Sharansky, who for years refused to give up the hope of one day being free with their people.

This is the gesture of Queen Esther, who, in order to save her people, was ready to risk death by speaking up where she was not invited to.

For all heroes of human history, the movement is the same:

It was not because they had proof that they believed.

It is because they believed, because they dared, and because they were ready to pay the price,

that the radical courage they demonstrated allowed them, literally, to overturn reality and to bring about a better world.

In the story of Purim, the manifest absence of God is nothing other than a call to human action.

This year on Purim, perhaps more than ever, the call today is for each of us.

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