This weekend is packed with mitzvahs. On Shabbos, we read Parshat Tzav and Parshat Zachor. On Saturday night, we read Megilat Esther and then again on Sunday, together with all the other mitzvahs of Purim — gifts to friends, charity to the poor and a Purim banquet.
There’s a wonderful theme running through all of these.
Sometimes the counterintuitive proposition is true. This is the case with miracles. Intuitively we would expect miracles to be obvious and completely supernatural; however, G-d’s miracles are always clothed in the natural.
In this week’s parshah, we find that the Kohanim were commanded to keep a fire constantly burning on the altar in the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple. They had to add wood to it every morning and evening.
The Talmud tells us that the fire on the altar was really a miraculous fire that came down from heaven. The obvious question, then, is why add wood? The answer is that, befitting the honor of G-d’s miracles, they are always performed in a hidden way. They are either totally or partially within the framework of natural laws.
This is why at the splitting of the Red Sea, G-d caused a strong east wind to blow the whole night. Even though everyone knows that the sea becoming dry land is a miracle, G-d made it appear like the wind caused it. So too, the Kohanim had to add wood to the fire.
We often look for G-d in our lives in the obvious realms; we look for the supernatural miracle. This is a mistake. G-d operates in the hidden realm. We will see G-d in our lives when we create an inner world, a place hidden from everything and everyone, alone with ourselves and our thoughts. Besides the self-discovery we would find, we might just find G-d as well!
Parshat Zachor, meanwhile, reminds us of Amalek, the first nation to attack the Jews after we left Egypt. Amalek would not accept that we’ve got G-d on our side. He chose to only see the wind parting the sea. He refused to see that behind it all is G-d orchestrating everything.
Megilat Esther presents the story of Purim. G-d’s name does not appear in the entire scroll, yet we know what a tremendous miracle Purim was. The turning point in the story is when King Achashverosh wakes up in the middle of the night. He reads the palace chronicles and finds that Mordechai prevented an assassination. The rest is history: The king couldn’t sleep, and Jewish survival was ensured! That’s the sort of miracle G-d does for us all the time.
G-d’s love for the Jewish people motivates Him to perform these miracles for us. The mitzvahs of Purim, therefore, teach us how to love.
Gifts to friends and even those you are not so close with create community and love. Charity, meanwhile, creates community and inclusivity. Sometimes, in following this mitzvah, we have to go out of our way to find two poor people. That is intentional, because inclusiveness requires us to go out of our way.
G-d is devoted to every Jew. He loves and cares for us and ensures our survival and eventual security and success as a nation. But we will only start to fathom G-d’s love if we start to feel the emotions ourselves. These mitzvahs coach us to do just that.
The Purim banquet is a big celebration. It’s the letting down of our hair and being in a mindset of no worries because we have a G-d who is the ruler of the universe, loves us very much and does miracles for us all the time.
Rabbi Nitzan Bergman is executive director of Etz Chaim: The Center for Jewish Living and Learning and founder and president of the WOW! program for young professionals.