Rare is the person who has the opportunity to knowingly shape the course of Jewish history. Most are happy to be relieved of that responsibility. From Moshe to Yonah, Yirmiyahu to Esther, few are willing to carry such awesome responsibility on their shoulders. And even—or, shall we say, especially—when taken on willingly, the burden can be too much to handle. How can one be confident in a decision made today, the impact of which will reverberate for hundreds or even thousands of years?
"He shall surely be put to death."
"They shall be pelted with stones and thus stoned to death."
"He shall be burned with fire."
"His soul shall be cut off from the community of Israel."
"Both shall bear their guilt and die without children."
"Have him flogged with lashes."
Purim marks a transition point in Jewish history. It ushers in the time period of hester panim, the transition from G-d's obvious and active role in history to a period when G-d's role in history is difficult to discern. Esther, whose very name is an allusion to this concept of hiding, is the last of the prophets. No longer would the word of G-d be directly revealed to man. There would be difficult choices to make, and man would have to work hard to try to determine the best course of action devoid of direct Divine guidance.
Purim celebrates the eternity of the Jewish people. Despite exile and dispersion, genocidal enemies and those willing to turn a blind eye to such, the Jewish people are here forever. When Esther sent a letter to the Sages, “kitvuni ledorot,” write me down for the generations (Megillah 7a), she was proclaiming that the story of the Megillah is the story of the Jewish people for all time. Its inclusion in the Biblical canon, after a protracted debate no less, marks the stamp of eternity on the story, the story of survival against all odds.
One of the fiercest debates amongst Biblical commentators of the medieval period was to what extent, if at all, parts of the Torah may be seen as allegorical. No less a personage than the Rambam claimed that stories such as the three angels visiting Avraham, or Yaakov’s struggle with an angel, were prophetic visions that did not actually occur. As one can imagine, views such as these—and more radical ones, which allegorized such mitzvot as the “sign on our arm”, i.e., tefillin—met with vociferous opposition.
"Where is Haman recorded in the Torah?" So asks the Talmud (Chulin 139b), in a seemingly incomprehensible question. Surely one would not expect to find Haman, living approximately 1,000 years after the close of the Torah, to be mentioned there. The Talmud, seemingly undisturbed by the question, has no problem locating Haman in the Torah, in a verse in Parshat Breisheet: "And He said: Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten of the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?" (Breisheet 3:11).
What should one do when the needs of the Jewish people conflict with the needs of Judaism? When the only way to keep our people Jewishly involved is to bend (or perhaps break) the norms of a traditional way of life? The Jewish people have been debating this question since the Enlightenment. With the ghetto walls crumbling, most Jews sought out new ways to express their Jewishness, unwilling and perhaps unable to maintain traditional frames of reference.
“When Adar enters, we increase our joy” (Taanit 29a). Presumably, the increased joy is due to the upcoming Purim festivities, the most joyous of Jewish holidays. Yet somewhat surprisingly, Rashi explains that our increased joy is due not only to the miracles of Purim, but to those of Pesach as well.