Everyone is aware that the miracle of Purim was “hidden.” There were no supernatural events that took place within the Megillah, and Hashem’s name is not mentioned. Much has been written about this in terms of defining the various ways in which Hashem chooses to interact with us. It is either seen as a downgrade of a previously glorious era when the Jewish People merited an overt revelation of Hashem, or, to the contrary, a still greater revelation of Hashem’s Omnipotence, working His miracles through and within the natural order.
But these approaches only take into account Hashem’s “hidden face.” If, however, we look a little deeper into the nature of our merits in that era, we also find a similar quality of “hiddenness.”
Esther’s name means “hidden” in Hebrew, and Chazal actually link it to Hashem’s warning that “and on that day I will hide my countenance from you.” The first merit of Esther was “and Esther did not tell anyone her origin.”
Why was it so important that she not divulge her origins? Was it because Achashverosh wouldn’t marry a Jewess? Then she could have kept mum until after the wedding. Did she want to use it to help her people? Maybe if she would have proclaimed herself Jewish from the onset, Haman never would have dared incite the king against the Jews?
Now, contrast Esther’s personality with that of Achashverosh. He made a giant event in order to “show all the nations his great glory.” As a finale, he needed to show off his wife to all and everyone.
This extraordinary dichotomy has its roots in the deepest recesses of creation itself. The Gemara in Brachos compares Hashem’s relationship to the world as paralleling the soul’s relationship with the body. The fifth likeness is, “Just as G-d sits within the deepest chambers of the world, so too does the soul reside within the deepest recesses of the body” (Brachos 10A).
We can understand from this, that all of creation has a double layer: inner and outer, content and medium. Hashem is the content that the medium of the world needs to express. The soul is the personal content that the medium of the body needs to express. And may we add that Yisrael and all it stands for is the content, while the nations of the world possess qualities (e.g., beauty, eloquence, etc.) that are capable of expressing that content.
It is the essence of the exterior layer that it realizes itself only when it has expressed itself to the “other.” Fancy wrapping has no inherent value, and it is only when the person beholding it is pleased that it has value. Its value lies in the fact that it connects the recipient to the gift. The content of the gift, on the other hand, is valuable in its own right. It does not receive its value from the validation of the recipient.
In the G-d/world relationship, we are the exterior. Hashem, as such, is the Hidden One, and the world, more specifically mankind, and Klal Yisrael as the quintessential human, realize themselves by serving as Hashem’s mouthpiece. Adam is described as a “ruach mimalelah,” says the Targum — a spirit that is capable of expression. The more we fill our mouths with Hashem’s praises, thereby publicizing Him, the more we have become the beings we are meant to be.
But a Jew has a dual nature. In terms of G-d/man, man is the mouthpiece. But in the relationship of Yisrael to the other nations, we become the soul of humanity, and the other nations are destined to be the “body.”
The behavior of Esther, then, is not a ploy for anything, but rather a manifestation of Yisrael’s prime character trait.
Indeed, if we take a step back, we realize that the “Mordechai/Achashverosh/Haman” triangle centered on this point. Achashverosh was all splendor and “chitzoniyus.” He would become the means used by one of two people: Haman or Mordechai. In Haman’s hands, he was the sword of destruction; in Mordechai’s hands, he was the sword of salvation.
Esther’s not speaking was the embodiment of “content” and, as such, relays Yisrael’s defining characteristic. She needed no one’s validation to be who she was. It is the greatest zechus for us to be the People we were meant to be.
This brings us back to the starting point. Hashem’s “hidden” hand in this miracle is the preferred state of the universe. The grandeur of Hashem is realized when He is at His most silent and hidden, and we undertake to be His voice to the world at large. It means that we raise our voice most loudly in publicizing the Divine that so silently fills our world.
But the flip side of this is that as loudly as we proclaim Hashem’s presence in that world, so are we silent about our own selves. For as regards ourselves and our very own world, we need to focus inwards on content.
There is a disturbing universal phenomenon taking root in our society that goes against this most core value. The unstated message of social media is that if it is not broadcast, it is of no value — even to yourself. No event exists — trivial as it may be, or as private as it ought to be — that is not posted on social media. An event never happened if one hasn’t snapped a photo and sent it off to all. A good deed has not been accomplished unless it has been posted. The great test of Shabbos is no longer parnassah; rather, it is the excruciating pain of spending a day with oneself!
Although there may not be a technical halachah transgressed [except for the Shabbos issue, obviously], it nonetheless uproots a core Jewish value: the value of “pnimiyus,” the value of a person finding his own world as satisfier of one’s sense of self.
The traditional definition of “tzniyus” falls squarely within the bounds of the pnimiyus. The challenge of tzniyus is that a person find satisfaction within his own world. His actions, before G-d, are what define him. A lack of tzniyus generally means that it is the attention of the other that makes one feel successful.
It is a message that we need to internalize, so that we remain the people we are meant to be. In the days of Esther, the test was to adhere to it in our national persona. We needed to have stayed away from the feast, although that might have meant our possible marginalization as a fundamentalist cult. The big attraction of the feast may not have been the food or drink, but simply the need to belong.
But today it is our very own person that is under assault. We exist only in the eyes of the beholder. It is an assault on the core description of tzelem Elokim as we believe it to be. As we will return to our natural sense of privacy, we will lessen our need for validation by the “other,” and we will thereby strengthen our “selves.”