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The Ineffable Name
by Rabbi Yisrael Rutman

I am always interested in knowing what our readers are thinking. Some months ago, I discovered something rather perplexing about a certain reader's reaction. She said that she enjoyed reading the beginning of each issue, but somewhere during the course of the essay, when G-d is almost invariably mentioned, it makes her feel uncomfortable.

Her reaction left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. On the one hand, as a writer, I am grateful for any reaction at all, even a negative one. There is no worse oblivion than an apathetic audience. And in this case, our reader's discomfort may actually be a positive thing, reminding her of what she, like many people, would rather not think about. That is, after all, our raison d'etre. On the other hand, I was afraid that too-frequent, overt references to You-Know-Who would drive her away.

So I began to ponder over how I could write something about Judaism without mentioning Him. It's not easy, let me tell you. But then I realized that the job had already been done for me. In fact, there is one entire section of Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Writings) which does not once mention the name of You Know Who. It is called Megilat Esther. The story of Purim is told there as a chronicle of court intrigue, anti-Semitism, and a twist of fate in which the Jews triumph over their enemies. To be sure, there is some prayer and fasting before it's all over, but nothing more supernatural than that.

The reason for the absence of You-Know-Who's name in the Megilah is not that Esther and Mordechai were uncomfortable with it. Rather, they left it out because, in a sense, He left Himself out of the story. He did not intervene to save the Jewish people with a latter-day splitting of the Red Sea, even though the total destruction of the Jews of Persia was imminent. Nor did He part the heavens to speak to any of the actors in the great drama, even though both Esther and Mordechai were, in fact, prophets.

Instead, salvation is brought about through a chain of events directed by an unseen hand, making sure that everyone is in just the right place at the right time. As a result of Vashti's death, Esther is elevated to the position of Queen, so as to be able to plead for the King's favor at the crucial moment. Mordechai just happens to be standing at the right street corner in time to overhear a plot to assassinate the King and report it to him, thus saving his life and incurring a debt of gratitude. Haman falls at Queen Esther's feet just in time for the King to walk in on them in a compromising position.

The Megilah gives us a choice. We can choose to see the guiding Hand of G-d in history; or to dismiss it as a chain of coincidence and an engaging farce. In that respect, it is very much like life itself. We can choose to see the Divine Presence in the world; or dismiss the miracle of creation as the product of randomness and the drama of history as an ultimately meaningless struggle for power.

There is a halacha that says if you read the Megilah backwards, you have not fulfilled the mitzvah. In its literal sense, it means that if even one word is read out of order, then you must resume reading from the place in the text where the error was made. The great Chasidic Rabbi Boruch of Medzbozh interprets this halacha symbolically. He taught that "reading the Megilah backwards" means that if you think that You Know Who stopped performing miracles in the days of Mordechai and Esther, you are not perceiving events as a Jew should; you are reading history backwards. For a Jew has to know that He is performing miracles for us all the time. But, like the miracles of Purim, they are hidden. We have to look for them. The Megilah is not the end, but the beginning of a mode of divine intervention in the arena of history; the mode of concealment.

This theme is contained in the very name Megilat Esther. The name Esther means concealment. The word Megilah in Hebrew means revelation. It is our task as Jews to reveal the hidden presence of You-Know-Who in the world and in history. That is the message of the Megilah.

So the effort is futile. One cannot write about Judaism without writing about its not-so-anonymous Author. For even when He is not mentioned, His presence is undeniable, in every twist and turn of the events of our lives. But we have to look for Him. Otherwise, we will be reading the Megilah backwards.


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