I haven’t had time to write anyone on Purim, since I was preparing a F2F study on the Triunity of God, something that I will post on later. Meanwhile, here’s some good though somewhat challenging thoughts on the holiday in Purim & My Bangladeshi Friend by Seth Tillman
Every year at Purim, my co-religionists and I read Esther. The story, as customarily explained to children, is that Esther won a contest . . . something akin to the modern beauty pageant. The prize was that she was made queen – the wife of the Persian emperor. As a result, by pleading to her husband on behalf of her brethren, she was well-situated to save the Jewish community from the nefarious Haman, who actively plotted genocide against the Jews. Esther’s courage thwarts Haman and the community is saved, although it remained in exile. The story is presented as one with a happy ending.
But, that is the story as it is told to our children.
By contrast, an adult, who considered Esther, would understand that the story of Purim is also an intensely sad story. That, I suspect, is one reason behind the origin of the rabbinic requirement to drink at Purim – to blunt (what should be) our emotions, (what should be) our pain. And this understanding of the text and of the requirement to drink on Purim is also consistent with the fact that Esther is the one book of the canon which is written absent God’s name. It demeans God (or, at least, one particular conception of God) to actively involve Him in such a story. An adult, who struggled with the text, would realize that Esther did not win a “beauty contest;” she was not free to opt-out; she was not free to leave at will. Simply put, she was a kidnapped woman: a woman whose family, friends, and community were either unwilling or unable to be saved from a tyrant. A tyrant who used a public contest to demonstrate his empire’s dominance over conquered peoples by taking their women.
Is it not possible, is it not likely that earlier generations drank to blunt the pain that a normal feeling human would naturally have had for Esther, and, concomitantly, to blunt the pain that a parent, sibling, or child should feel for a mother, sister, or daughter that one is unable to save?
Maybe this is why it was the only book of the Tanach not found in the Qumran caves, those proud, pure desert-dwelling tzadiks did not care to be reminded of their subjugation–then and now.