These words are being published on Purim, the most joyous day of year, when we celebrate the survival and strength of the Jewish People in the face of our many enemies.
But there is another subtler, yet perhaps more important, reason for celebrating.
Purim is the transitional point of Jewish history, where we move from a religion led by prophets to one led by sages. No longer did the Jewish People (and the world at large) have direct access to the word of God. We would henceforth need to debate and determine the best way to fulfil our Divine mission on earth.
This is not dissimilar from a child who in his early years is guided by his parents, with the challenge being whether to heed their advice. At some point, the child leaves home, the parents are no longer and the now-grown child must make adult decisions on his own. For their first 1,000 years or so, the Jewish People received clear instructions on what to do, though we had a hard time following them. As our first exile was ending and we were returning to Zion, prophecy was winding down.
The name Esther means hidden, as we entered the historical stage when God is hidden from us. It’s not by chance that God’s name does not appear in the Megillah. Without prophetic help, Esther and Mordechai argue as to the proper reaction to Haman’s decree – a debate that continues to this day.
Our sages declare that a wise person is greater than a prophet. We must use our own efforts and abilities to figure out how to act. Relying on others – even a prophet – is an abdication of responsibility. With that responsibility comes uncertainty, as despite our best efforts, we can’t always make decisions today that will, in hindsight, be the right ones 10, 100 or 1,000 years from now. All we can do is try our best – no simple task – and hope and pray for the best.
This transition from prophets to sages, from clarity to uncertainty, is worth celebrating. While the financial markets abhor uncertainty, our moral development requires it. The more we control the future, the less we need to concern ourselves with the present.
The Torah notes that God chose the Land of Israel for the Jewish People because, unlike Egypt, it was dependent on rainwater for survival. Rainwater fluctuates from year to year, leaving us to work hard morally in order to receive God’s blessing, and intellectually so as to develop technologies to help bring more systematic order. While these two ideas may contradict each other – do we or don’t we want a stable water system? – such is the nature of man’s partnership with God. We must realize we are dependent on Him, even as we explore ways to have greater independence.
It’s for this reason that many parents of means are hesitant to just give their children oodles of money. It’s not healthy to be granted financial independence without having to work for it. Some commentaries actually explain that this is the reason for the (theoretical) prohibition on interest. Being able to sit back and collect income without work was seen as potentially harmful.
This tension is seen in the teaching that we “may not rely on miracles.” We may pray to God and believe that God’s hand is never far away, yet we must never rely on God. As heretical as it sounds, we must live our lives as if God remains aloof from this world.
Our Sages teach that “poverty is a wheel that returns to all,” and that’s not a bad thing.
There are challenges of poverty, but the wealthy face equal and perhaps greater challenges. Purim is the time of sending portions one to another and gifts to the poor. It is this joining together of all as one that’s most worthy of celebration.