Who Runs the World?
PurimLooking for the Divine

Who Runs the World?

Reading the Book of Esther at Purim guides us to find the control of G-d through the concealment.

Dena Schusterman

Dena Schusterman is a founder of Chabad Intown, a Jewish educator, and a founding director of both the Intown Jewish Preschool (intownjewishpreschool.org) and the Intown Hebrew School. She and her husband, Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman, are native Californians living in Atlanta for 20 years with their eight children.

Costumed Esthers put girl power on display each Purim.
Costumed Esthers put girl power on display each Purim.

Who runs the world? Girls!

Surely you have heard these popular lyrics, as I have, and maybe you have heard the entire song, “Run the World (Girls),” which I have not. But the verse is catchy, and it’s stuck in my head.

According to the Torah’s teachings, G-d runs the world. Although mostly it seems that it is run by just the girls or just the boys. The women or the men. Or a mixture of them all.

While the world looks to be running by itself, on auto-pilot or in utter chaos, this is intentional. G-d created the universe and promptly concealed Himself within it. The less G-dly something appears, the more concealment is at play.

Conversely, when you notice a beautiful sunset, when a baby is born or when you partake in a mitzvah, you are experiencing G-d revealed. This juxtaposition is by design: He is here, but He is hidden. This requires us to take notice.

G-d hard-wired us to see our lives as mundane and contained within the so-called laws of nature, so that we are compelled to search Him out, to find purpose, even where it seems there is none, within our personal life journey.

When every one of my children was a baby, the first and favorite game we would play was peek-a-boo. I was constantly amazed by how thrilled each child was by this simple game. My face is directly behind my hands; the baby can see my neck, my forehead and my chin. Yet, somehow, “boo” and I am back, and it is the funniest, most amusing pastime, delivering gaggles of giggles on demand. The child knows I am there, but it is in finding me that the greatest joy takes place.

We will be celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim on Sunday, March 12. The Purim story, called Megillat Esther, or the scroll of Esther, and its holiday have always been my most enjoyable.

It is an authentic story of a princess and her heroism. It is the antithesis to the Disney caricature of feminine dreams and desires.

Esther is a common girl and has no aspirations for a handsome prince to drive her off into the sunset with a happily ever after. She is taken against her will to the palace and inexplicably is chosen by the king over all the more suitable maidens in the vast kingdom, and she remains there as a hostage in the harem of King Ahasuerus or Achashverosh.

Meanwhile, the king has a wicked vizier named Haman, who is filled with hate for Mordechai, who is the Jewish leader. Haman plots to designate a day to begin a genocide against all the Jews in the Persian Empire and persuades King Ahasuerus to sign the decree.

Esther then recognizes that there is purpose in her being chosen as queen, putting her in the right place at the right time, so she begins to use her position for the good of the Jewish people. She does save the day.

So back to that question. Who runs the world? Girls!

Well, almost.

Back up.

When you read the complete story of Esther, with all its plots, subplots, twists and turns — which I encourage you to do twice during the holiday — you are struck by one significant fact, which is that G-d seems to have gone missing. G-d is in the details but nowhere in the text.

In every one of the Jewish holiday stories, we speak of G-d’s blockbuster miracles: the splitting sea, the lightning, the thunder, the oil, the cloud of glory and so forth.

This holiday is no different. It has a big miracle: The Jewish people are saved from certain death.

And to read the story, you would not even know it. It is easy to become enamored with all the coincidences and chance events: Esther is picked as the queen; Mordechai is her uncle (or husband), so she has the pulse of the entire Jewish community; Mordechai happens to save the king’s life; the king happens to have a sleepless night; Esther seduces the king. Is it all just extraordinary luck?

Perhaps some see it that way.

But the message of Purim is to see it in another way. In a G-dly way.

The very name Esther means to conceal, and Megillah has the same root word as reveal. Megillat Esther is telling us that we need to reveal that which is concealed. Every. Single. Day.

The Mishnah brings home this point with an interesting principle. It states that if the Megillah is read backward, from the end to the beginning (the way I read a magazine), one has not fulfilled the mitzvah of the day.

Why this unusual rule? It is telling us something more than the rule itself; if someone reads the story as if it happened in the past “backward,” that person is missing the point. This is not a story for the ages; it is a story for today. Find G-d in your story.

All of us live lives that look like a series of chances, good luck and coincidences. But in reality it is all miraculous, and it should all be celebrated.

It is so easy to take for granted that which we deem normal and usual. So don’t.

Don’t take it for granted, and don’t see it as normal. Appreciate all the small and insignificant things.

See the divine in the synchronicity and in the people with whom we share this planet; take the time to acknowledge the connections we have with one another. Both locally and globally.

It is not always easy. That is why it is meaningful. It is a choice to make. Feel empowered.

To look around and see that we walk in miracles every day is to reveal the concealment of the divine-human relationship.

Why is this important, so important that when Esther and Mordechai write their story, they intentionally leave out G-d’s name?

Because this is how we develop an attitude of intention, purpose and gratitude — and then we ultimately can come to the child’s unbridled joy.

So who runs the world? G-d. But perhaps it will be the girls who let everyone know it.

Dena Schusterman is a mother of eight, a wife, the rebbetzin of Chabad Intown and the executive director of the Intown Jewish Preschool.

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