Off the Pulpit

Why We Have The Megillah

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls every book of the Hebrew bible is represented except the book of Esther. Allusions are made to phrases from Esther so the book was known in Qumran, but not considered sacred and therefore not preserved. Some of the Christian church, particularly in the East, also omitted Esther from the canon of sacred books in the early centuries. Why this uncertain status?

We cannot know for sure, although the absence of God’s name, or perhaps the rejection of Purim as a holiday may have been a reason. Yet the Rabbis found God in the Megillah, or more accurately, God’s spirit moving through the Megillah, and I’d like to suggest another reason why our sages preserved this wonderful story.

The Rabbis were not prophets but they were often gifted with remarkable foresight. They anticipated a future when communities outside of Israel would be frightened and need encouragement. How often did the story of Esther remind Jews that things could be reversed, that there was still hope, that even in the brutal diaspora there was a promise of survival? The Rabbis kept Esther because they knew we would need it. More than two thousand years ago Esther and Mordecai saved the Jews of Shushan; since that time they have helped save us as well.