We often think that we are midway through the year at this point in time, as we are six months away from the High Holidays. But in truth, in the next two months we will conclude the year and begin anew. In Judaism, we have not one, but four New Years. Passover marks the beginning of one of those New Years. We will finish the year with Purim and begin the holiday cycle anew with Passover. As the year comes to an end and we prepare to begin again, there is a beautiful lesson in the juxtaposition of the two holidays.
The year concludes with the holiday of Purim. We know the story well. It is a story of how hatred can lead to great calamity and how one person can help save the Jewish people. Haman is bent on destroying the Jewish people, while Queen Esther, with the assistance of her uncle, Mordechai, ensure a future for their people. We read this story year after year in synagogue as we chant the megillah. Sometimes, the most important piece of the megillah goes unnoticed, as the story unfolds, there is no mention of God. Never once in the megillah, is the name of God found. Yes, there are hints –but only hints—of God’s role in the unfolding of events. The ultimate salvation of the Jewish people, in this story, is at the hands of two individuals: Esther and Mordechai.
This is quite different from the way that the year begins. We begin the year with Passover, just as we enter into Spring. The Passover celebration includes the retelling of another story; the story of our Exodus from Egypt. We gather around the Seder tables telling our narrative, of how we were slaves in Egypt and ultimately, we were redeemed. Year after year, as we recount this story, we note that our salvation was not because of a person or people, but because of God. Dramatically absent from the Hagaddah is Moses. The Seder night is not about Moses’ leadership, leading the Israelites out of Egypt and parting the sea. In fact, look hard, and you will never find his name mentioned. And take a quick glance, and you will easily spot God’s role in the narrative. The ultimate salvation of the Jewish people, in this story, is at the hand of God.
The year begins with the story of our people at their lowest moment; as slaves in Egypt. We left Egypt, at the hands of God. We continue through the year, standing at Sinai, receiving Torah and entering into a partnership with God as we celebrate Shavuot. We celebrate the High Holidays which leads into celebrating Sukkot and appreciating God’s divine protection in the fragility of life. The days become shorter and darkness envelops our world and we fill the darkness with the candles of Hanukkah, recounting the miracle of the oil and the ultimate victory of the Macabees. The very first signs of spring appear in Israel as the snow covers our neighborhood and we celebrate Tu B’Shvat. The celebration is all about the hiddenness of God. And Tu B’Shvat leads us into Purim –a celebration of our ability to change our own history. It is complete transition from the way the year begins –with God’s outstretched arm. Here the arm is that of Esther and Mordechai.
We are reminded, as we look at these stories together, that in truth, our future at times feels completely divine driven and other times feels like God is completely absent. We begin the year with God defining our story and we end with a woman and man ensuring our future.
This reminds us that the reality exists in the balance between the moments where we find God and the moments we feel in control. In that balance, we find freedom and redemption. And in that balance, we end a year and begin again, knowing that both we and God will shape our future.