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Thought for the Day: Purim 2023

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“The innate human instinct to reveal what is hidden runs deep.”



Last week, readers of the Jewish Chronicle were surprised by a news report that King Charles is to be anointed with a rare brand of kosher approved oil at his Coronation in May. The article explained that the oil had been carefully sourced from an organic olive farm in the lower Galilee, in close consultation with my office. It’s a lovely story. Or at least it would be if it were true. In reality, the oil is coming from the Mount of Olives and has been consecrated by Christian faith leaders in Jerusalem. 

Each year, ahead of the Jewish festival of Purim, which takes place today, Jewish newspapers have a tradition of writing a satirical story, offering readers the chance to have a bit of fun debating what is satire and what is real news. It’s part of the broader tradition of the ‘Purim Spiel’ – historically, a satirical play or parody, which has seen renewed popularity in the social media age. 

The Purim Spiel illustrates the essence of Purim, a major theme of which is the importance of ‘revealing the hidden’. Recalling the sinister plot for the genocidal murder of the Jews of Persia 2,500 years ago, the Bible reveals how the plot was ultimately exposed and averted. Famously, the name of God, who was central to all that transpired, does not appear in the Book of Esther, teaching us that, though truth is often hidden, we must be relentless in our pursuit of it. 

The innate human instinct to reveal what is hidden runs deep. Children love a game of hide and seek and adults enjoy seeing a great mystery solved. There is something particularly primal about our desire to discover truth. Public confidence that we can achieve this is what creates the trust which is the bedrock of any functioning society. 

But there is a further aspect of this message. The name of the heroine of the Purim story – Queen Esther –– literally means ‘hidden’.

At the moment of maximum peril, Esther revealed her latent potential. At risk to her very life, she courageously intervened to save her people from annihilation. We seek to emulate her example to this day and find within ourselves hidden reserves of courage and resilience, to discover and nurture our latent talent, in order to enhance our fragile world. And by peeling away the superficial layers of our characters, we aim to reveal our true selves and live accordingly. 

Purim reminds us that it is always easier to create doubt than to foster trust. It is always easier to hide who we really are than to take a risk. But as Maimonides taught, the purpose of knowing truth is to live by it.