Who is the hero of the Purim story? If you answered, “Esther,” that is correct, but only partially so. The real answer is that the hero of the story is an abstraction: the elements of hiddenness and concealment. The story of Purim is a tale that masks, obscures, and veils.
All this is contained in the very name “Esther,” which derives from the Hebrew root that means “conceal.” The entire Purim story, in fact, is an exercise in concealment.
The Talmud (Hullin 139b) asks if Queen Esther is ever hinted at or alluded to in the Torah. The Sages answer that she is hinted at in the verse where God says, “I will surely hide [My Face from them]” (Deut. 31:18). The Hebrew for “I will surely hide” is haster astir, which contains the letters of the name “Esther.” God hiding His Face means, among other things, that God will conduct His guidance of the Jewish people in a non-obvious, hidden way. Israel will not be aware that God is directing things. In fact, to many it will seem that God is not present at all in the affairs of man, that He has abandoned us to our own devices.
When one reads the Purim story, the hand of God is almost fully concealed. In fact, God’s name is never mentioned in the Megillat Esther. On the surface, one might think that He is not involved at all. Things just seem to happen. The very name of the festival, Purim, means “casting of lots,” again pointing to the haphazard nature of events.
Coincidences just seem to take place. Queen Vashti just happens to refuse to appear at the royal banquet, engendering the search for a new queen. Esther just happens to be chosen as the new queen. Mordecai just happens to be at the palace gate to overhear the plots against the king’s life. The king just happens to have a sleepless night and turns to the royal chronicles which recall that Mordecai saved his life.
On the surface these are coincidences, but they only mask the Divine Hand that guides events.
One of the reasons that we do not see Divine intervention in this narrative is due to the great amount of time that is covered by the story. It spans a nine-year period.
Esther herself is the very epitome of hiddenness, silence, reticence. The text mentions twice that “Esther did not reveal her origins” (2:10, and 2:19). Everything that takes place is under wraps, and yet all that takes place is moving towards the dramatic climax where Esther reveals who she really is and thereby saves the Jewish people.
It is no wonder that masks are a signature element of Purim. By wearing masks we are, without realizing it, imitating the God Who also masks His action and hides His Presence.
The hiddenness of God, of course, is not new. Long before Esther, Moses asks God to reveal His ways to him, and God replies, “My face shall not be seen.” Hiddenness is a necessary ingredient of Godliness. Mystery, concealment, and incomprehensibility are intrinsic parts God’s makeup. The Kotzker Rebbe said, “I would not want to worship a God whose every action I could understand.” And as Isaiah said much earlier, “My thoughts are not your thoughts….” (Isaiah 55:8). How can we fully comprehend Him? The mortal cannot completely understand the immortal. The finite cannot entirely grasp the Infinite.
God may be concealed, but He is ever-present.
The Purim miracle is the paradigm of the Hidden Miracle, in contrast to the obvious open miracles such as a small vial of oil burning for eight days on Hanukkah, or the splitting of the Red Sea.
In consonance with this theme of hiding, note that the Zodiac sign for this month of Adar is Pisces, the Fish. One of the chief characteristics of fish is that they are unseen, concealed, hidden, covered over by water. The very symbol for this month is a signal of the hiddenness of this month’s Purim.
God may be hiding, but He wants us to seek him out. An old Jewish story tells of the child playing hide and seek who is crying: “I am hiding but no one is looking for me!” God, too, complains, as it were, “I am hiding, but My people do not seek Me.”
God’s ways are often hidden. We do not readily comprehend why things happen the way they happen. We think that if we were God, we would do things in a different way.
In these tension-filled days for Israel and the Jewish people around the world, we can take comfort in the idea that although the Hand of God is not clearly seen, He remains in charge of His world. “Behold the Protector of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalms 121:4). He is concealed, but He is ever-present. He may be difficult to perceive, but we take comfort in God’s future promise that “I will no longer hide my face from them” (Ezekiel 39:29).