The story of Purim is one which apparently lacks religious or historical significance. The fact that one of our enemies attempted to destroy the Jewish people is unfortunately not newsworthy. The political twists and turns of the early Persian Empire should not be the basis for a Jewish holiday. The Talmud in explaining why we do not sing the praises of Hallel on Purim explains that in essence nothing really happened; when the "story" ended we were still subservient to Achashverush . The Sages of the time were opposed to establishing Purim as a holiday and only through the tenacious efforts of Esther did they relent. Acceptance of the megillah as a sacred book of Tanach was a long time coming. The megillah itself has lesser sanctity than the other books of the Bible having the status of a "letter" as opposed to a book. While even one missing letter disqualifies a sefer Torah a megillah retains its " kashrut" even if up to half of it is missing.
However, Purim is a much beloved holiday of the Jewish people. Feasting, drinking, costumes and just plain having fun are key features of the day. Unlike other mitzvoth which are done either at night or by day, the megillah is to be read both by day and by night. Only by the mitzvah of reciting the Shema and by prayer do we find such a phenomenon. Our Kabbalistic Sages go so far as to say that even Yom Kippur must take a back seat to Purim. It is only Yom K'Purim , a day like Purim. How and why did this transformation take place?
"Remember days long gone by; ponder the years of each generation" ( Devarim 32:7). It is only with historical perspective that events can be properly assessed. Often what appears to be earth shattering turns out in historical context to be of little impact and events which were looked upon as trivial at the time turn out to be of great historical importance. It appears that Purim is one such event. For those living in Shushan nothing unusual seemed to occur during the nine years of the megillah time line. Changing queens and prime ministers, parties and preparation for battle would be expected to occur over any nine-year span. While Esther and Mordechai may have realized the historical significance of unfolding events no one else saw this. In fact the Talmud declares that members of the Sanhedrin disassociated themselves from Mordechai, sharply disagreeing with his confrontational approach.
As time passed the importance of what had transpired started to become apparent. Jewish history had entered a new epoch. Exile had become a fact of life. While the Jewish people would rebuild the Temple most Jews would remain behind in Babylonian; the long and often bitter exile for the Jewish people had begun. The period of prophecy was drawing to an end along with the closing of the Tanach . No longer could we rely on G-d's messengers, forcing man to rely on his wisdom to move forward.
The future of the Jewish people and of Judaism was at a crossroads. And the Jewish people came through. "The Jewish people ordained and took upon themselves and upon all their seed." (Esther 9:27). It was on Purim, our Sages teach, that the Jewish people reaccepted the Torah (Shabbat 88a). At Sinai the Torah had to be forced upon us whereas at Purim we willingly embraced it. Despite the fact that so much of the Torah relates to the land of Israel the Jews perhaps for the first time realized that Torah transcends time and space. The megillah is to be read both during the dark years of exile and the years of light when we are sovereign.
The midrash tanchuma posits that the reacceptance of Torah refers specifically to the oral law, the law not dictated by G-d but worked upon and developed by man. To accept a divine code is one thing but to work hard to develop that code, to insist that human interpretation is final even against a heavenly voice is quite another (see Bava Metzia 59b). While fraught with uncertainly it is only through human initiative that Torah can thrive or even survive. "A sage is better than a prophet" we are taught. The message of the megillah unlike the exodus Egypt is not totally clear; it is hidden to be developed by man.
On Purim G-d did not tell us how to respond to the danger we found ourselves in. Mordechai, Esther and the Sages differed in their approaches and that is how it must be. The future of Judaism is dependant on man, and it is man who must think and act. Purim teaches that G-d will never totally abandon His people, but it is man who must take the first step. And that is something worth celebrating. Purim Sameach!