How My Daughter Taught Me the Meaning of Purim


My daughter Hannah and I have a ritual. She says, "Daddy, let's play hide and seek. You count to five, and I'll go and hide." "Okay," I say. I begin counting: "1...2...3...4...5. Ready or not, here I come!"

Then she says, "Okay, Daddy... I'm behind the couch!" The next time it's "I'm in the dining room." Or "I'm under the desk."

For Hannah -- and for many young children -- the point of the game is to be found. Over time, however, we start to get lost. We hide from ourselves. We hide from what we know is right. We start to hide from God.

That hiding can take many forms. It can take the form of busyness. We can spend so much time working we forget the reason we work. It can take the form of addictions, where we solve our confusion with false comfort. It can take the form of dreaming, where we find satisfaction in our imagination rather than reality.

The Jewish holiday of Purim, which begins tonight, calls on us to stop hiding. It tells the story of one remarkable woman -- Esther -- who initially hides her from her religion, from her king, from herself.

The she changes. How? She faces a real need and a challenge. As told in the biblical Book of Esther, Esther's cousin Mordecai learns of a plot to murder the Jews of Persia. He asks Esther to intervene with her husband the king. The king does not know his wife is Jewish, and that she may well perish with the other Jews of the kingdom.

But Esther hesitates. Such an intervention would mean revealing her Jewish identity. It would mean taking a stand. It would mean coming out of hiding, literally and figuratively.

The magnitude of the task clearly distresses her. As the text says, she fasts for three days. Then she decides. She stops hiding. She tells the King who she is and asks him to annul the genocidal decree. It works.

Her uncovering of her hidden self saves the Jewish people. The name Esther itself is derived from the Hebrew word Hester, which means hidden. The book of Esther is about hiding, seeking and revealing the power, the strength, the courage hidden within ourselves. You have it. Now go and find it.