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Purim's Messianic Message

And the Jews experienced light and happiness, joy and honor (Esther 8:16) this short verse near the end of the Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther, captures the abiding promise of hope our ancestors found in that biblical book. To our people, the Scroll of Esther is more than an historical romance set in the early years of the Persian Empire and even more than the account of a miraculous tale of our deliverance from a heartless aggressor. We cherish our history and the sacred legends that tie us to our past, but as Jews, it is our tendency to look forward rather than back. At best, the great events of our past serve as a source of courage and inspiration as we use our experience over time to train ourselves to face the future with faith and trust.

As a people, we are survivors and Purim is one of the many Jewish holidays that celebrate survival. We read the story of Purim in the Scroll of Esther, rooting for Esther, cheering Mordechai, laughing at King Ahasuerus, and drowning out the wicked Haman's name with boos and noisemakers. We send gifts of sweet treats to our friends. We reach out our hand to the needy. We rejoice until our spirits transcend the confines of this passing world. We pray that as the Jews of ancient Persia experienced light and happiness, joy and honor, we and our children should be so blessed and be freed of our enemies forever.

Purim is a holiday that expresses our hope in a better world. It is a holiday with a messianic vision. Our sages of old promise us that in the Messianic Period all of holidays except for Purim will be abolished and all the prophetic books and the sacred writings in our Bible, the Niviim and Ketuvim, except for Megillat Esther, will disappear.

The story of Purim is the eternal story of God's saving care for Israel and the good people of the world and the Megillat Esther can be read as an apocalyptic allegory. Haman the descendent of Agag, a king of the Amalekites, our archetypical enemy, is overthrown. Mordechai, dressed in royal robes, becomes king of the Jews, a messiah, and with his cousin, Esther, Queen of Persia, the Shekinah, God's abiding presence, rules the world on behalf of the Ahasuerus, the hidden king of the king of kings. On Purim we celebrate our ultimate deliverance and feast and rejoice, as we will do at the banquet, which, as our sages assure us, will introduce the messianic age.

Purim is not the only day during the year in which we stress the messianic vision hidden in the Megillat Esther. We recall this hope and dream every week as we say farewell to the Shabbat with Havdalah, the Ritual of Separation.

We understand the Shabbat as a foretaste of the World to Come. As our Shabbat comes to an end, we look forward to a time when the peace of Shabbat will fill all creation and love and mercy will reign throughout the world. Through our prayers, the gestures and the words, we rededicate ourselves to this commanding commitment. We hope that our experience of the Shabbat, the day of rest and the foretaste of the world to come, will carry us through the coming workdays until the next Shabbat or the beginning of the messianic age, whichever comes first.

Our Siddur, prayer book, is filled with passages from the Tanak, our Holy Scriptures. Verses from the Torah, the Prophetic Books, the Book of Psalms fill our prayers. However, we rarely cite the Megillat Esther in our prayers. One noticeable exception is in the series of Biblical Verses that introduce the three blessings of Havdalah; the blessings over the wine, the spices and the twisted candle. As we recite that prayer we read the passage from the Megillah that describes our ancestors' exhilaration at being saved from Haman's plot, And the Jews experienced light and happiness, joy and honor (Esther 8:16).

We do not end our prayer there, however. We add the phrase "so may it be for us," expressing the hope that soon we may experience the joy of the final redemption. Then, perhaps with a subtle reference to the custom of enjoying wine on Purim, we take the wine glass and say, I lift the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Eternal (Psalm) and begin the first of the three blessings, the blessing over the wine.

Megillat Esther is a wonderful story. It is filled with intrigue and suspense, lust, love and violence. It gives a glimpse into the court life of ancient Persia. It is a story of bravery and daring. It tells of a great danger and great deliverance. It contains some of the most memorable characters of our Bible. It is a story that thrills young and old. But beyond its literary merits and its historical significance, it is a story, as it has been read by our people over the centuries, that tells us not only of events in the distant past, but strengthens us with hope for a better future for us, for the people Israel and for all the world.

Type: Dvar Torah

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