All Prophetic Books and the Holy Writings will not be recited publicly during the messianic era except the Book of Esther. It will continue to exist just as the Five Books of the Torah and the laws of the Oral Torah that will never cease. Even though all remembrances of past sorrow will end, as it is written: “The troubles of the past are forgotten and hidden from my eyes” (Isaiah 65:16), the observance of Purim will not be eliminated, as it is written: “These days of Purim shall never be erased among the Jews, and the memory of them shall never be lifted from their children.” (Esther 9:28)
– Maimonides Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Megilah, 2:18
Why would this be so? Why would Maimonides say that in the messianic age, the only scroll among the Ketuvim (Writings, the last section of the Bible) not containing the name of God will be preserved in our holy canon?
Let us turn to what Maimonides says about the messianic age itself:
At that time, there will be no hunger and no war, no envy and no competition. The good will prevail, and there will be much justice. All delicacies will be as available as dust. And the world will be engaged with nothing but knowing God in their hearts. And there will be in Israel great wise ones, and they will know the secret things, attaining knowledge of the Creator as much as possible for a human being.
– Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim 12:5
In this wonderful age, all questions regarding the relationships of the people Israel and the state of Israel among themselves and with their neighbors will be resolved. No more war, no occupation. People will cooperate to meet their material needs and devote themselves to spiritual uplift. Why then would we continue to read the Megillah, a vivid fantastical tale of diaspora Jews under threat of annihilation, triumphing through their political resourcefulness and radical action?
In the story of Purim, God is glimpsed only through the acts of human beings in solidarity with one another. While the name of God is never invoked directly in the Megillah, when Esther sends word to Mordecai that she is afraid to go to her husband the king without being summoned (an act that could get her executed), Mordecai replies, “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a moment.” (Esther, 4:13-14)
Mordecai says, “from another place,” a makom acher. We often refer to God as HaMakom, the Place. The story implies that in challenging times we have opportunities to step up, as Esther does, to intervene courageously and change the world for the better. We also have free will. We can decline the opportunity and hope that some other person will heed the Divine call. In the Purim story, there are no miracles. There are human deeds.
Maimonides teaches that the most import mitzvah of Purim is the commandment to share feasts with the poor. But why will this commandment be upheld in the messianic age when everyone will have enough?
Perhaps because in that anticipated time, no one will go hungry just because people will look out for one another. We will still be human beings with bodily needs. But sharing will come naturally and joyfully to us. As vulnerable, mortal beings, we all could, at any moment, become the poor. The mitzvah of Purim is active caring for one another.
We are Jews who love Israel and wish for her to be at peace with her neighbors, including a free Palestinian state. We can decide that it is for this day, this crisis, that we are here, and we can take action to bring closer the day when good and justice prevail.
Rabbi Podolsky teaches Jewish thought at California State University Long Beach, writes for Shondaland, and blogs at http://www.jewishjournal.com/erevrav. Her most recent academic article, L’Aimé Qui Est Aimée: Can Levinas’ Beloved be Queer?, was published in European Judaism, Volume 49, Issue 2, Autumn 2016.