Wednesday, March 19, 2014

God Back Stage

by Ken Spiro

Of all the holidays in the Jewish calendar, Purim is probably the most unusual.  It’s the only holiday where the story takes place outside of the Land of Israel.  It isn’t mentioned in the Five Books of Moses, and it’s one of only two books in the Bible where God’s name isn’t mentioned (the other isSong of Songs).

The story behind the holiday, which is recorded in the Book of Esther, is very strange indeed.  Everything in the narrative seems to point to chance, randomness and coincidence.  It kind of reminds me of the movie  “Babel,” where several seemingly separate stories converge; in the end, everything fits together into a coherent story.  These cases point to the tremendous “design” that exists amidst seeming haphazardness
This is one of the most powerful messages of the Purim story. From the period of the Bible up until the destruction of the First Temple 2,500 years ago, God connected and interacted much more directly and openly with His creation. We had prophecy and open miracles, and there was little doubt that the big MAN upstairs was running the show. Since that time God’s face has been hidden, and it’s much harder to feel His presence in history and in our lives. Doubt crept into the world and the human race slowly drifted away from spirituality.

One of the biggest lessons that we learn from the Purim story is that while God may be hidden, He is always there, and while events may seem random, nothing happens by chance.  From the greatest events in human history to the small things that happen to us daily, there is reason, purpose and design to everything. Chance, happenstance and randomness are just an illusion.

One reason God hides His face is to allow us to grow by giving us greater ability to exercise our free will. How differently do we behave when we feel like we are being watched? As the saying goes, “When the cats away, the mice play.” The real challenge of life is to build our relationship with God when He seems to be so distant from us.

I think that one of the best ways to build our relationship with God is by building up our sensitivity to how God interacts with us daily, which is often in the most subtle and seemingly random ways. In Hebrew this is called Hashkacha Pratit- God’s personal supervision.

A great example of this happened to me more than 30 years ago when I first came to Israel and began my journey back to Judaism. A few months after I arrived, I was sitting by the Western Wall. It was very late at night and the plaza was almost empty. It occurred to me that I had been in Israel for three months, but had yet to leave a note in the wall. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a pad, but I had no pen. “Oh well” I thought “I’ll have to do this a different time.”  A few minutes later there was a tap on my shoulder. Standing behind me was Dave, a fellow student from my school in Jerusalem. He said to me. “I’ve been here three months and wanted to leave a note, but I have a pen and no paper.”

Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that truly give us a glimpse of the BIG picture.

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